Bipole III line exempt from additional PUB reviews

The Manitoba Public Utilities Board (PUB) has ordered the establishment of a panel to review two dams proposed by Manitoba Hydro but the utility’s plans to build the Bipole III transmission line will not face the panel’s scrutiny.

In a 232-page order issued Jan. 17, the PUB ordered the creation of a panel to review the utility’s plans for the Conawapa and Keeyask dams proposed for the Nelson River but did not order additional review of the high-voltage line.

“With the considerable escalation of project costs – each successive update of [Manitoba Hydro’s] capital expenditure plans has shown material increases in the forecast cost of expansion – the Board is looking for MH to justify, and an independent tribunal to comprehensively review, each of the projects on a net present value basis within a [needs for, and alternative to]” review, the order said.

“[W]hile the Board Chairman would prefer Bipole III be included in the NFAAT review, the Vice-Chair would not,” the order continued.

The government has not yet set up the independent tribunal that will review the dams.

“We have, in the past, subjected our generating projects [to the NFAAT review] at the direction of the Province… but it’s not our practice and there’s no legal requirement for us to do a similar [review] for the transmission line,” a spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro told TransmissionHub on Jan. 30.

In 2007, the provincial government chose a longer west-side route for Bipole III than Manitoba Hydro’s original plan to protect an ancient forest that spans the Manitoba-Ontario border. Bipole III will run 1,400-km (870 mi) and will cost more than C$3bn (US$3bn) to build.

“Bipole III is being built for hydro reliability issues, and it’s being built where it’s being built so that we can increase the reliability [of the system] without compromising the unique, intact boreal forest which is going for a UNESCO World Heritage designation,” a spokesperson for the Manitoba cabinet told TransmissionHub on Jan. 27.

The spokesperson said some news reports “make it sound like we’re just building it and not consulting anyone” which, the spokesperson said, is not the case.

“The Bipole III project is going to go through an Environmental Impact Assessment process before the Clean Environment Commission and will have open and public hearings as well as funding for interveners,” the spokesperson said. It will also be the subject of a Crown-Aboriginal consultation process announced by Dave Chomiak, minister of innovation, energy, and mines, in early December.

“Our government received a mandate from the people of Manitoba during the past two elections to keep Manitoba Hydro public, to build Bipole III, and to build it down the west side of the province. That’s what we’re going to do,” the spokesperson said in a follow-up e-mail to TransmissionHub.

The Conawapa generating station would be the largest hydroelectric project ever built in northern Manitoba, and would be capable of generating 1,380 MW. The Keeyask generating station would produce about 600 MW.

This article was updated on Jan. 30 to include comments from Mantoba Hydro.