by Graham Lane
Published in the Winnipeg Sun, November 23, 2018
The Bipole III Coalition has ended its valiant eight-year effort to cut the damage resulting from the financially disastrous expansion of Manitoba Hydro’s transmission and hydro-electric generation network. The Coalition began by advocating for a shorter route for Bipole III gradually expanding its views to critique Hydro’s overall expansion.
The Coalition was established in 2010 by a group of engineers, most retired from careers in Manitoba Hydro, the University of Manitoba, and consultants. They were joined by landowners in the Red River Valley (Bipole III runs right through the heart of Manitoba’s most productive agro-climatic region) and a former Chair of the Public Utilities Board.
While the Coalition’s initial concern was the west-side routing of Bipole III, it realized that, as unfortunate as the routing decision was, Hydro’s overall expansion plan (inclusive of three new generating plants, Bipole III and a new Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line) was the greater concern. With prices for surplus generation plummeting with oil and gas fracking and energy efficiency efforts and Hydro’s expansion costs exploding, it became clear that ratepayers would be left to pay for an expansion for which no reasonable plan existed to recover the enormous debt.
Despite the Coalition’s efforts, beginning six years before the end of NDP government and continuing to its recently announced wind-up, and after its efforts to reduce the scale of the economic boondoggle now continuing under Pallister’s PC reign, the Coalition tried but failed to bring about needed changes.
The costs of northern generation plants at Wuskwatim and Keeyask will exceed by a large margin the estimates upon which the projects were licensed. And, the cost of the Bipole III transmission project is more than double the original estimate. Ratepayers and/or taxpayers will be stuck with paying. Farmers, whose land is in the path of the Bipole III transmission line, are just beginning to deal with the cost, inconvenience and risk of towers in a line that splits their fields into parts. And, the claim that Bipole III was needed for reliability has still never been proven.
Hydro has way more capacity to generate electricity than Manitobans need. The surplus will be sold, cheaply, while Hydro projects its debt to reach $25 billion (a mortgage on every ratepayer). Past proponents in the NDP government and Hydro who championed the expansion are long gone, living comfortably on pensions and termination benefits while Hydro’s reputation as the ‘crown jewel’ of the province is in tatters. The best Manitobans can hope for is that the latest limited review, recently announced by Pallister, will establish a framework to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
During its tenure, the Coalition amassed a trove of documents related to Bipole III and the overall expansion. These documents disclose how the grave consequences the Coalition predicted over time have, sadly, came to pass. I recommend a visit to the Coalition’s website, .
Populated by knowledgeable leaders of the Bipole III Coalition, a new volunteer Manitoba Energy Council led by Garland Laliberte (retired U of M Dean of Engineering) and Dennis Woodford (President of Electranix) has taken shape. They take the view that the past is in the past and the future can be managed only by accepting that the starting point of the future is the present.