Opinion Editorial

Time for Manitoba Hydro and NDP to provide reality check on BiPole

John Coward

It is incomprehensible that the NDP government refuses to change its mind on the decision to run a new hydro transmission line down the west side of the province rather than the shorter, more cost-effective route east of Lake Winnipeg.

Critics of the west side BiPole 3 route, including Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Jim Collinson, former UNESCO World Heritage Committee President, John Roschuk, Electrical Engineering Specialist, and Jim Graham, P. Eng, Professor Emeritus, University of Manitoba laid out their reasons for an east-side route in a report released last week.

The first sentence of the report sends a clear message to the government. "Forcing Manitoba Hydro to build BiPole3 down the west side is a costly decision that cannot be justified on an economic, engineering or environmental basis."

Firstly, the west-side route, they say, would cost an estimated $1.4 billion more to construct than the shorter east-side option. Manitoba Hydro's initial decision to go down the east side of Lake Winnipeg was because the route was 400 to 600 km shorter.

Secondly, the report says the west-side route would pose additional security risks to transmission lines. The west-side option would take BiPole 3 through an area of the province that is far more prone to violent weather activity such as tornadoes and lightning strikes.

The group also disputes the government's claims that the east-side option would put caribou herds at risk. There is no evidence, they say, that any herds have been affected by the existing transmission line. In fact Manitoba Conservation has identified caribou herds on both sides of the province.

Migratory birds would also be at a higher risk of colliding with transmission lines on the western side. "The birds will be at risk for collisions with the transmission lines as the areas are used right now for 'staging' (feeding). The east side would pose considerably less conflict for migratory birds," the report states.

Former premier Gary Doer has consistently defended the west-side option saying an east-side transmission line would eliminate the chance of Manitoba's boreal forests being named a World Heritage Site.

Former president of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, Jim Collison, says an east-side route would not affect UNESCO's decisions.

The report says that the "pristine" boreal forest on the east-side already has winter roads, tourist camps, First Nations, mining activity and hydro lines. The report points out that Banff, a World Heritage Site, has more than three per cent of its area covered with infrastructure, including roads, hydro lines and town sites whereas the east-side transmission line would only affect 0.0000075 per cent of the boreal lands.

The NDP has also stated that an east-side transmission line would adversely affect Manitoba Hydro's ability to sell power to Minnesota. They claim American environmentalists would object to hydro lines crossing the boreal forests. Considering the fact that Minnesota currently produces 59 per cent of its power from coal-fired plants, the authors of the report doubt the environmentalists would object to clean hydro power.

The report also goes on to say that the west-side option would pose a risk to much more infrastructure that exists on the west side. "Unlike AC power, DC power has unique characteristics. One of the major ones being 'stray ground currents' that will cause electrochemical corrosion of above-ground and subterranean metallic structures."

According to the authors of this report, there is little evidence to support the west-side BiPole 3 option. They are calling on the government to get back to reality and do the right thing.

Manitoba Hydro boss Bob Brennan rolls with the NDP punches and has failed to do the right thing on this issue and stick up for the taxpayers of this province who own Manitoba Hydro and all its resources. He's stuck away in his new ivory tower in downtown Winnipeg and refuses to answer the question: Why the west over the east side route?

Perhaps our newly-minted premier, Greg Selinger, might want to define his own leadership on this issue and come clean on the real reasons for the west-side decision.

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