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Switching bipole route called costly

After Tories table Hydro's critique

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/5/2011 (3329 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Switching bipole routes would delay hydroelectric megaprojects in Manitoba's north and jeopardize lucrative power deals, Finance Minister Rosanne Wowchuk said Thursday.

Wowchuk's comments capped an afternoon of raucous debate in the legislature after Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen tabled a leaked internal Manitoba Hydro report from 2005 that condemned the building of the Bipole III transmission line down the west side of the province.

McFadyen said concerns raised in the report should have rung alarm bells in government offices that cancelling Hydro's preferred east-side route in 2007 was a grave mistake.

The report says going down the west side offers no environmental advantage over building on Hydro's preferred route on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, and increases reliability concerns of supplying electricity for export. That could mean higher rates for Manitobans to keep the lights on if export markets dry up.

McFadyen also repeated a vow that if elected premier in the Oct. 4 provincial election, he will cancel the longer western route in favour of building the bipole line east of Lake Winnipeg -- without jeopardizing multibillion-dollar deals to sell electricity to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A $4-billion deal was announced Wednesday, plus the construction of the $5.6-billion, 695-megawatt Keeyask dam to produce that power.

Wowchuk said despite what McFadyen says, the bipole ship has already sailed.

"If someone was to try and change their mind and go in another route, we would lose these sales because the line would not be built in time," she said.

The Tories have got their hands on several internal Manitoba Hydro documents in the past few weeks and used them to try to embarrass the NDP on the bipole file. The PCs say the bipole issue is slowly finding resonance with voters, but the NDP says it's not an election-breaker.

Manitoba Hydro president Bob Brennan said the leaked report was one of many done by the Crown corporation as it studied different routes for the bipole line, to be the third running from northern dams to deliver power south.

"It was just one report in a whole bunch," Brennan said. "I think this made the board of Manitoba Hydro look at a whole bunch of other issues associated with it, and asked for more reports."

Brennan said Hydro's environmental licence application for Bipole III will be filed in the fall, perhaps even after the Oct. 4 election. The new estimated cost for the bipole project is $3.28 billion.

"We're trying to get it out as fast as we can, but there's trouble," he said. "It's not as easy as one thinks. It's just taking us longer than we'd like."

Brennan added competition from American wind farms and biomass energy sources provide another challenge to Hydro that's gone mostly unnoticed in Manitoba.

As American states buy more power from Manitoba, critics in the U.S. say it will result in a loss of jobs and investment for new wind farms and other projects. They're opposed to a new Wisconsin bill to allow hydroelectric power from Manitoba to qualify as "renewable" under that state's energy mandate. The bill is awaiting final passage in the state assembly.

"The opposition to us selling into the States comes from environmental groups," Brennan said. "... They want to protect their own sources of generation like garbage-burning, wind and all that. We're harming that by selling what we deem to be clean power.

"They've all got these standards for renewable energy. Once our's counts, it's makes it really hard to get theirs done."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Friday, May 27, 2011 at 2:24 PM CDT: Adds link to report.

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