Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hydro outages not a Bipole III issue

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In the article Big guns come out against Bipole plan (Oct. 29), it was reported that Stan Struthers, minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, "said without further hydro development, the province could see repeats of the mid-1970s when blackouts were more common."

During the 1970s, I was a transmission planning engineer with Manitoba Hydro and I am well aware of the large number of power outages that occurred until May 1980. That was when the 500 kV AC transmission line from Winnipeg (Dorsey Station) to the Twin Cities (Chisago Substation) was commissioned and put into operation. From that point on, the number of power outages was reduced but not eliminated. It is well-known fact electric transmission interconnections improve reliability. This was very evident Sept. 5, 1996 when a downburst wind event caused failure of 19 transmission towers that took out operation of Bipoles I and II for a week or less. To my knowledge, no power outage impacted Hydro customers in Manitoba because the interconnections did their job as they were contractually required to do for such an emergency. It is also important to note that since May 1980, no failure in the existing Nelson River HVDC Bipoles I and II transmission lines has caused any power outage or rotating power outages to Hydro customers in Manitoba.

But back to Struthers' statement. Manitoba customers are still experiencing significant power outages, but not due to Bipoles I and II or the interconnections to the U.S., Ontario and Saskatchewan. There are unacceptable power outages occurring quite frequently in Manitoba that we seem to accept as a matter of course.

One example is the ice storm in southeastern Manitoba on Oct. 5, 2012. It caused many Hydro customers to lose electricity for up to five days, but the two high-voltage interconnections to the U.S. that passed through the centre of this ice storm remained in service. Since then, there have been at least 10 more power outages -- some were caused by pole-top fires, a goose, a derailment at Symington Yard, winds and even a raven. Many thousands of customers were deprived of service for hours or days, the durations of which were kept to a minimum by the extraordinary efforts of Manitoba Hydro's linemen.

The Bipole III Coalition presented a very good economic and technical case to the Clean Environment Commission that Bipole III was not needed for some time for the stated purpose of reliability of power supply. This case was either ignored or not understood by the commission. There was minimal reference to this part of the coalition's case in the commission's final report in June.

In the Oct. 29 story, former premier Ed Schreyer made the statement, "Past growth rates and credible projections show a domestic growth rate well within Hydro's present capacity for a few more years." Struthers rebutted: "If we delay and leave Manitoba in a position where we run out of power, then the logical outcome of that is that we will have less investment in this province." This ignores the very credible argument of Schreyer and the evidence that was presented to the Clean Environment Commission by the Bipole III Coalition.

Manitoba Hydro presented evidence to the CEC as to how large the economic cost to Manitobans is when power outages occur. As minister responsible for Hydro, Struthers must get Manitoba Hydro to increase their efforts to make their distribution -- which is distinct from transmission -- supply to Manitobans much more reliable. Furthermore, constructing Bipole III now will do nothing to remedy these ongoing power outages.

Based on historical performance, arguing for Bipole III's construction on the basis of "reliability" is an extremely poor return on investment. Hydro must fix the problems where the power outages are really occurring, which in turn are incurring unaccounted costs of some substance to Manitobans and the provincial economy.

 

Dennis Woodford is president of an engineering consulting firm in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 A15

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