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Send Manitoba's power west

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Manitoba Hydro needs to find new markets for its power to help finance its current and future operations. Alberta needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The transmission of clean, cheap hydro power directly from the Nelson River to Alberta via northern Saskatchewan would achieve both these objectives -- and there is federal funding that may be available to make it happen.

Selling power south has been a major revenue source for Manitoba Hydro. The ground is shifting quickly in the electricity marketplace, however. In fact, one could say Manitoba Hydro is in quicksand. The innovative new method of extracting fossil fuels through 'fracking' has provided cheap electricity in the States and has reduced the revenue Manitoba Hydro earns from electricity exports.

Since Manitoba Hydro produces some of the cheapest and most environmentally friendly power on the planet, the next logical project to be funded by the Building Canada Plan 2013 would allow Alberta to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by importing clean hydro-electricity from Manitoba -- a project that would displace electricity currently generated by coal-fired plants.

Fort McMurray, for example, could be supplied directly from dams on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba. Such a transmission link could provide cheap, reliable power while also reducing Alberta's carbon footprint -- a win-win scenario.

Is it technically possible to connect Manitoba's power in the north to Alberta's power grid? Yes it is. The technology required for a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line has been used in the existing transmission system from the Nelson River to Winnipeg since the 1970s. The federal government subsidized Bipole I and Bipole II transmission lines from the Nelson River to Winnipeg in the 1960s, an investment that has paid itself off many times over.

A direct transmission line from the dams in northern Manitoba to northern Alberta has not yet been seriously promoted. Previous alternatives have focused on going south via the cities such as Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary. However, the northern route will be the shortest distance and cheapest route.

Another benefit is the capacity of the line could be increased in the future as Alberta's demand increases. There could also be a tap off the line to supply power to coal-burning Saskatchewan if required. The Manitoba-Alberta link could form part of a trans-Canada electrical grid.

The federal infrastructure program I helped develop when I was in cabinet, the Building Canada Fund, has billions of dollars set aside for infrastructure projects of regional significance. A transmission link between Manitoba and Alberta is exactly the type of nation-building project the Building Canada Fund was designed for.

Recently in Atlantic Canada, the federal government helped with the financing to transmit power from Labrador to Newfoundland and again to Nova Scotia using complicated combinations of transmission lines and undersea cables.

U.S. President Barack Obama suggests the Keystone XL pipeline might not be approved without assurances the carbon footprint of the Alberta oilsands is minimized. One way to achieve this is for Alberta to import clean hydroelectricity from Manitoba, displacing electricity generated from coal-fired plants, thus greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Certainly, the coal lobby in Alberta would not welcome competition supplying clean power. However, a diversified energy supply that includes energy coming from environmentally friendly and low-cost hydro is a win for those who support the oilsands and for those who want to reduce Alberta's emissions.

The economic benefits would be considerable. This transmission line would create thousands of jobs in Manitoba and Alberta related to the construction of the line and in the resource sector.

A transmission line from Manitoba to Alberta would be a straightforward project and would be an obvious candidate for the Building Canada Fund. There is a demand in Alberta for cheap, clean power and that demand can be met by Manitoba.

By greening Alberta's energy supply with clean Manitoba power, we would reduce Alberta's carbon footprint, provide a new export market for Manitoba Hydro, help with the Keystone XL project and strengthen Canada's economy. Let's seize the opportunity.

 

Steven Fletcher is a geological engineer and the MP for Charleswood-St James Assiniboia-Headingley.

 

ALSO: First Nations communities need renewal energy to get rid of diesel power, former Indian Affairs minister Robert Nault says. Go to wfp.to/comment

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 9, 2013 A11

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