Pipeline Observer

Hydro’s try to avoid a federal review

Published in September, 2017

BY MANITOBA FORWARD

Winnipeg Sun

Hydro’s try to avoid a federal review

Manitoba Hydro has asked the federal government to squelch a critical public and fulsome review of the troubled utility’s Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project (MMTP). In a letter dated Aug. 23, 2017, Hydro President Kelvin Shepherd asks federal Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr to accept Manitoba’s provincial review and not launch a full-fledged National Energy Board one.

Hydro claims processes within the Manitoba government provide the degree of assurance needed that the project would be in the public interest. What Shepherd doesn’t relay to Minister Carr is that those Manitoba processes are marked by conflict of interest.

Firstly, Manitoba Hydro is a very troubled Crown corporation, with its expansion plans, including the MMTP, way over budget. And, the MMTP is being strenuously contested from both knowledgeable critics and affected landowners Hydro’s sole “shareholder,” the government of Manitoba, not only appoints the members of Hydro’s board of directors but also the members of the provincial regulatory bodies that oversee Hydro (Clean Environment Commission, Public Utilities Board, and the provincial government itself). All of these related bodies support the project: Mr. Shepherd wants the feds to give it a quick pass.

The federal government has the authority and responsibility to approve, or disapprove, the export of Hydro’s electricity. Manitoba Hydro sells surplus power to the U.S. Leaving aside the shaky economics of actual and proposed export contracts, subsidizing exports through higher Manitoba rates, opportunities to sell to Ontario and Saskatchewan need to and should be thoroughly examined. Also needing a review is the affects, effects and problems related to pushing an oversized new transmission line through farmland.

As it is, the proposed MMTP is over-engineered and far too costly. Hydro already has a 230 kV 400 MW interconnection to Minnesota Power, so with the proposed new line Hydro would have an export capacity of 1,900 MW on top of the 2,000 MW export capacity Hydro already has with the U.S., mostly to Minnesota. With Hydro’s once-planned Conawapa dam mothballed and likely “dead” (with $400 million spent and needing to be written off), the scale of the MMTP is simply wrong. The potential for Conawapa being eventually built is low, the trend being towards smaller and closer projects (distributed generation, solar, wind).

A current federally funded study — Regional Electricity Cooperation and Strategic Infrastructure Initiative — is evaluating Western Canada electricity infrastructure projects with the potential of additional east-west transmission (Manitoba to Saskatchewan is part of the study). Committing Hydro’s Keeyask export potential to the U.S. may not be in the interest of Canada, let alone Manitoba’s suffering ratepayers.

Carr should not agree to have the National Energy Board do a “quick and dirty” federal review as sought by Mr. Shepherd. One requirement for an approval by the National Energy Board is that there is no market within Canada for the surplus energy being contracted for export to the US. As well, studies within Manitoba have revealed that a reduced project would save farmland and avoid cutting down large numbers of trees.

Manitoba Hydro has wasted too much of ratepayers’ money already. It’s effort to rush a federal review of an unnecessarily large and expensive project, one that could curtail future Canadian opportunities, should be rebuffed by Minister Carr.

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca)