Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Appeal to feds for scrutiny of Hydro projects

  • Print

BRANDON -- It represents the last, and perhaps best, opportunity to delay, modify or even kill Manitoba Hydro's controversial plan to spend tens of billions of dollars on new dams and transmission lines, but that opportunity will vanish unless those opposed to the plan move quickly.

The economic justification for Hydro's plan to construct the Keeyask and Conawapa dams, along with the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission lines -- and I believe Bipole III as well -- hinges on its ability to sell electricity to American customers. Before the utility can sell a single ampere of power from the new projects to its American customers, however, the construction and sale must be approved by the National Energy Board and, ultimately, the Harper government.

"Manitoba Hydro's energy exports are subject to NEB oversight," confirmed Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell. "The proposed Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project will require an authorization for construction and operation from the NEB.

"Also, the project is subject to an environmental assessment and review by the NEB under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)."

While Manitoba Hydro has successfully navigated (so far) a provincial regulatory process that is, by design, fated to trigger approval from the Selinger government, the NEB is truly arm's length from the province. It possesses the technical expertise to conduct a thorough review of Manitoba Hydro's plans, and is immune to political interference by the provincial government.

As to the scope of an NEB investigation, a 2003 decision that approved an earlier export of electricity by Manitoba Hydro said: "Where the construction of new facilities is required to serve, among other needs, the demands of an export contract, then the environmental effects of the construction of those facilities are related to the export."

In the regulations relating to NEB applications for electricity exports, the definition of "environmental effect" is extremely broad. It includes "any change that the project may cause in the environment, including any effect of any such change on health and socio-economic conditions, on physical and cultural heritage, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by aboriginal persons, or on any structure, site or thing that is of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance."

In short, the NEB has sweeping jurisdiction to examine not only the merits of a proposed electricity export, but the impact of the construction of all facilities related to that sale. It has the power to consider the impact of every aspect of Manitoba Hydro's dam and transmission line plans, and to recommend the federal cabinet impose conditions before approving the construction and sale.

There is a catch, however.

Though the NEB has expansive powers to review electricity export applications, it does not always do so. Indeed, the NEB Act directs the board to approve the sale without holding a public hearing unless the federal cabinet orders a comprehensive review of the application be held. It has not yet made that order.

The challenge for the many Manitobans opposed to Manitoba Hydro's expensive expansion plans is to convince the Harper government and the NEB to take a serious look at those plans -- to conduct a review similar in scope to that undertaken by the NEB in respect of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

The plan's opponents have a strong argument that Keeyask, Conawapa and the transmission lines will collectively impact a huge swath of Manitoba wilderness and farmland. There are myriad socio-economic and environmental implications along the entire route. The interests of thousands of First Nations and Métis Manitobans are potentially affected by the plan.

The fact the proposed transmission lines would be largely located in federal ridings currently represented by Conservative MPs may also be a relevant factor.

A compelling case can be made for the Harper government to intervene, but time is quickly running out.

Manitoba Hydro has already spent almost $2 billion on the project and has signed construction contracts to spend even more. As each day passes, the project moves closer to the point where it becomes be too big to stop or even modify.

If the plan's detractors are earnest in their demands for a comprehensive review that is fair, open and transparent, they need to contact their MPs immediately.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

deverynrossletters@gmail.com

@deverynross

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 A13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Susan and Gary Harrisonwalk their dog Emma on a peaceful foggy morning in Assiniboine Park – Standup photo– November 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Bright sunflowers lift their heads toward the south east skies in a  large sunflower field on Hwy 206 and #1 Thursday Standup photo. July 31,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What should the city do with the 102-year-old Arlington Street bridge?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google