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Analysis

Engineers united on east side

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/12/2010 (2389 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The following open letter has been written by 19 senior professional engineers who are mostly retired from senior positions in Manitoba Hydro, local consulting engineering companies, and the University of Manitoba. The letter collates informed opinion on a major issue of economic, environmental, social and technical importance to Manitobans: the routing of the new transmission line known as Bipole III.

 

 

The writers support the initiatives of the Bipole III Coalition, a group of professional engineers, landowners and others who promote the significant benefits of a route on the east side of the province instead of the government's choice of a western route. They have chosen not to involve younger engineers who may have current or future career opportunities with Manitoba Hydro.

 

ALMOST 75 per cent of Manitoba’s electric power is generated in northern Manitoba and transmitted to the south by two power lines (Bipole I and Bipole II) that follow a single route to Winnipeg through the Interlake region between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. Construction of new generating capacity in the north, and concerns about the vulnerability of the existing lines to catastrophic outages, have made it necessary to add a third line (Bipole III).

The government's decision to locate Bipole III on the west side of the Manitoba lakes appears to have been based mainly on a narrowly selected range of environmental issues, not the complete environmental picture. As senior engineers, mostly retired, we wish to broaden the discussion to include technical, social, and economic issues; and also additional environmental issues. We provide information that identifies strong advantages in constructing the new line on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

Beginning about 20 years ago, Manitoba Hydro did extensive planning for the new line to follow a route from Gillam to Winnipeg down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. In 2007, the current government directed Manitoba Hydro to select a Bipole III route on the west side of Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis, thus eliminating the eastern route. While many Manitoba Hydro engineers, both present and former, favour the eastern route, Manitoba Hydro has subsequently planned only for the western route, which is 50 per cent longer. The planning for the eastern route included objective, comprehensive cost-benefit, environmental, and socio-economic studies. Were equivalent studies done for the government's western route? We understand they were not.

The government's primary argument for avoiding the eastern route is that part of it would traverse an area that may be designated a World Heritage Site. They argue that to receive this designation, the forest must be maintained in pristine condition. However, other World Heritage sites in Canada, for example in Banff and Jasper, are crossed by transmission lines and main highways. Of the 10 criteria for designation as a World Heritage Site, the two that are applicable are that the area: "is an outstanding example representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution of terrestrial-ecosystems; and "contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity."

Neither criterion precludes carefully positioned roads and transmission lines.

Land owners who will be critically affected by the western route and a group of Manitoba professional engineers have raised objections to the government's directive the western route must be followed. The directive was apparently made with little or no public input and no reasoned comparison of costs and benefits.

Existing roads and winter roads that run north from Winnipeg along the east side of Lake Winnipeg are currently being upgraded and extended to Berens River, with later extension to Poplar River. Two sections of these roads will go through Pimachiowin Aki -- The Land That Gives Life.

The Manitoba government is currently in discussions about all-weather roads from Norway House to four Island Lake communities in northeast Manitoba, and from Gillam to Rankin Inlet. These new roads will provide northern communities with needed economical and reliable access to goods and services from the south. Their rights-of-way will have much greater impact than will a power line.

They will therefore have greater influence on a decision regarding World Heritage Site designation than an eastern power line.

As with the Banff and Jasper sites, careful positioning need not interfere with receiving the designation.

Once the roads have been located, a common corridor that includes the road and the Bipole III makes sense. Environmental studies show the right-of-way is favourable for wildlife. It will also allow access for periodic inspection and maintenance of the line.

A 66-metre-wide right-of-way will occupy less than 0.03 per cent (three ten-thousandths) of the projected heritage area.

It is not the "wide swath" described by opponents of the eastern route. We note the east side of Lake Winnipeg already contains power lines, roads, mines, fishing lodges and other civil infrastructure. Only a 60-kilometre stretch of the east-side route is not currently traversed by temporary roads.

The eastern route offers many advantages over the longer and costlier western route.

With a length of 885 kilometres, it is 480 kilometres shorter. Using information already made public by Manitoba Hydro, the costs of the eastern route are in the neighbourhood of $1 billion less than those of the western route. This figure includes construction costs (including financing), line losses and additional needed control equipment. (Others have suggested even higher costs.)

Selection of an east-side route would save a Manitoba family of five around $4,200 compared with the west side. The longer line will cause electricity worth about $300 million to be lost in transit, the equivalent of all wind energy generated annually in Manitoba, and equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 40,000 cars.

If the line losses had to be replaced by a coal-fired station, choosing the eastern route over the western route would be equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 245,000 tonnes each year.

The two routes traverse the same length of boreal forest (about 400 kilometres). In addition, however, the western route also traverses several hundred kilometres of the best agricultural soils in the most favourable agro-climatic zone in the province. Farmers will be compensated either in a lump sum or over a period of 10 years for the areas occupied by towers on their land.

In perpetuity, however, the towers will cause ongoing obstruction and additional expense to irrigation systems, aerial spraying and systems for applying livestock manure for crop production.

There are 16 First Nations communities that would be affected by the eastern route and 15 by the western route -- essentially the same number. Neither route will traverse any aboriginal reserve land, although both traverse traditional lands of aboriginal peoples. We understand First Nations chiefs on the east side of Lake Winnipeg are expressing increased interest in the eastern route for Bipole III.

There are technical issues that show a route on the east side of the province provides much higher reliability and protection against risk from wind and ice storms.

In particular, if Bipoles I and II are damaged, the eastern route for Bipole III is twice as effective as the western route for supplying southern Manitoba and the contracted power to the United States. Future construction of generating plants on the lower and upper Nelson River will eventually require a fourth transmission line (Bipole IV).

For technical reasons, this future line will need to be a 500kV AC (not HVDC) line and it needs to be on the west side of the lakes.

Eventually, this fourth line will significantly reduce existing system constraints, allow separation of the lines for improved reliability, and permit possible future sales to Saskatchewan. The HVDC transmission line (Bipole III) that is currently being discussed, will not resolve these issues. It is essential Bipole III be located on the east side of the lakes, not on the west side.

In summary, the current Manitoba government decided Bipole III must run west of the Manitoba lakes and directed the technical staff of Manitoba Hydro to make it happen.

Based on technical, environmental, social and economic grounds, we consider the selection process for the western route to be seriously flawed.

The Manitoba government and the Manitoba Hydro board of directors must take responsibility. We urge that an eastern route should once more be selected as the preferred route for Bipole III.

 

Most positions in the following list were held before retirement.

Ken Adam PEng, consultant on environmental and cold regions infrastructure

Len Bateman, Order of Manitoba, PEng, CEO Manitoba Hydro

Charles R. Bouskill PEng, past-president, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of Manitoba (APEGM)

Art Derry PEng, vice-president Manitoba Hydro

Dave Ennis PEng, executive director, APEGM

Robert (Bob) Foster PEng, vice-president Wardrop Engineering, past-president APEGM

Jim Graham PEng, president, Canadian Geotechnical Society, Prof. Emeritus U of M

Richard Johnson PEng, vice-provost U of M, past-president APEGM

Garland Laliberte PEng, dean emeritus of engineering, U of M, past-president of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers

Don Miller PEng, transmission design manager Manitoba Hydro

Glenn Morris PEng, associate dean and head of civil engineering, U of M

Al Myska, PEng, consulting engineer northern engineering

Bryan Purdy PEng, consulting engineer on environmental and northern infrastructure

Al Snyder PEng, vice-president Manitoba Hydro

Art Sparling PEng, professor of environmental engineering U of M

Brian Stimpson PEng, associate dean and head of geological engineering, U of M

Malcolm Symonds PEng, director engineering services, Bristol Aerospace, commanding officer, 402 Air Reserve Squadron

Will Tishinski PEng, vice-president Manitoba Hydro

Allan Trupp PEng, associate dean and professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, U of M.

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