West route for Bi-Pole III still a bad choice

The government intends that Hydro plough ahead with the construction of Bi-Pole III down the west side of the lakes starting as early as this year. This doesn’t make it right and there is still no reasonable answer as to why this decision was taken.

By Dorothy Dobbie

When unreasonable and unsupportable decisions are made by governments, it begs the question: who stand to gain?

In the matter of Manitoba Hydro and the decision to route Bi-Pole III down the west side of the province rather than the east, the decision is both unreasonable and unsupportable.

The purpose for building the new transmission line was stated by Hydro to be the necessity of providing a backup system for power to the heavily populated south in the event of catastrophic failure of the other two lines, Bi-Poles I and II. A certain distance from the old lines was stipulated as a safety feature. Hydro recommended a route down the eastern side of the lakes as the shortest and most efficient power delivery distance from the generating site to the converter station to be built on the south-eastern  side of the province.

The provincial government rescinded that decision and mandated that the line be built down the western side of the province in spite of the fact that:
• Because of the much greater distance from the line to the converter station, a western route cannot deliver enough power to fail safe the south from a catastrophic event and power failure of the other lines.
• The costs of choosing the western route are exponentially higher than the eastern route.
• The western route will necessitate  that construction of the lines cross Manitoba’s Red River valley floodplain as it loops around south of Winnipeg to reach the Riel converter station on the eastern side.
• The original environmental arguments about the effects of the development and the building of  north-south roads to support the line (not to mention the very poor and isolated First Nations communities along that route) have been put to bed twice – first by a denial from the former UNESCO committee chair that such activity would affect any world heritage designation and secondly by the government itself in its ultimate decision to build an even more expensive network of roads throughout the area to support the communities. Local people  have no  reasonable means of getting supplies in over winter roads in warm winters when the ice coverage is brief.

A third and even more puzzling argument was put forth by government saying that the western route had to be chosen in order to meet the requirements of southern markets.  In fact, at the time the targeted market had already passed legislation allowing the purchase of hydro power from Manitoba with no stipulations about routing or anything else. Regardless, there is a serious discrepancy between the amount contracted for and the cost of supplying hydro to this customer, and it is not in our favour.

The western route invades many more private interests, while it too crosses a very vulnerable ecosystem in the subarctic regions.
To respond to these arguments, a number of  “information” sites have been mounted on the Internet, supposedly countering what are being called “myths”, while the project ploughs ahead.

The debate rages on and the expected is happening. The arguments are too intense and the subject too complicated for most people, who tune it out and just say, “Whatever . . .. if we need it just build it.” But now, there are those who question even the need, saying that other issues at Hydro are even more pressing, including an outdated computer system that they say is jeopardizing our power supply.

Which brings us back to our original question.  Who stands to gain here? Not Hydro, which will have to bear substantial additional costs, technical issues and delays. Not the people whose farms and properties will be invaded by the gigantic transmission towers and who will have to put up with the inconvenience of having to deal with them in their fields or with the constant worry that all that concentrated electrical activity can’t be good for livestock. Not the people of Manitoba who will have to put up the money. Not the residents of southern Manitoba or the city where new homes will be perilously close to the lines as they cross the floodplain.

There is a lot at stake; $3.28 billion is the cost now, says the government, while the latest estimates claim it will be $4 billion. So what, counter the spin doctors, the increased cost is only three per cent  of Hydro’s total capital budget, a mere pittance.

It makes your head ache, doesn’t it? But coming from a political experience where I watched huge decisions turn on the emotions of individuals in power, I still have to come back to the original  question. Somebody stands to gain from this irrational decision, even if now it’s only a matter of someone saving face which, as is not unlikely, is all it might be.

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