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Hydro & Minnesota: Power chums

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We've heard a lot about Manitoba Hydro over the past couple of years.

For a while we couldn't get enough of the whistleblower and her allegations – now-discredited – that the province's Crown corporation was on road to financial ruin.

Now it's Bipole III.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen has staked his and his party's success in the Oct. 4 provincial election on the what side of the province the high-voltage transmission line should run.

Here Under the Dome, Bipole III is a daily talking point for the Tories.

"We've always said that we believe there is a need for Bipole III and that we should take the advice of engineers on it," McFadyen said recently. "And the advice of engineers, now for many years, has been to go down the shorter east side."

Sounds simple enough, right?

Not according to the NDP.

Here's Premier Greg Selinger in a recent exchange during question period:

"When it comes to Manitoba Hydro, Mr. Speaker, it's very clear what the agenda of the member opposite is. He wants to stop hydro from being built, doesn't want to do converter stations, doesn't want to do the bipole, doesn't want to build Keeyask, doesn't want to build Conawapa.

"He wants to privatize it; that's his agenda. That's exactly what he did with the telephone system, and that's what he's intending to do with Manitoba Hydro."

For the record, McFadyen says he does not want to privatize Manitoba Hydro.

"We are committed to entering into deals that are good Manitobans and to export as much clean energy as we can," he says.

Which brings us to Minnesota.

There's a meeting of the Minnesota Department Of Commerce this Thursday to deal with Xcel Energy's proposal to renew its long-standing deal with Manitoba Hydro to buy power. Xcel wants to buy more surplus energy from Manitoba Hydro at a fixed price during peak summer months until mid-2025. Under a new agreement, Xcel Energy will purchase between 375 and 500 MW of power from Manitoba Hydro.

You can see what's on the table in a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission staff briefing papers (PDF).

One thing that does stand out is this new provision:

"A change from the existing contracts with Manitoba Hydro is the explicit inclusion of provisions that account for the environmental attributes of the energy being purchased by Xcel. The extended Manitoba Hydro agreements all provide for Xcel to receive the environmental attributes associated with MH’s predominantly hydro generating facilities."

What this means is that what power Xcel buys from Manitoba Hydro will be a a carbon-free resource.

"Because of this, Xcel customers will not incur additional costs for this contract in the event that carbon emissions are limited or taxed in the future," the briefing paper says.

There are other advantages for Xcel, too.

Hydro from Manitoba is cheap and reliable, even in low water years, the briefing paper says.

"No part of the proposal is subject to market or fuel price volatility," it says. "To the extent that Manitoba Hydro offers option energy, it will be provided to Xcel’s customers at a reasonable price (this price has been marked trade secret) thereby ensuring that the cost of that energy is always in ratepayers’ interest."

A finalized deal is expected soon. The agreement, to start in 2015, is worth almost $3 billion for the province.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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