Bipole III opponent: Questions never forwarded to project developer

The Bipole III Coalition, a group opposed to the Bipole III project in Manitoba, Canada, wants to know why 129 information requests about the project submitted to the province’s Clean Environment Commission (CEC) were never forwarded to project developer Manitoba Hydro for response.

According to the transcript of an Aug. 16 hearing before the CEC, the coalition’s counsel Brian Meronek told the five members of the commission in attendance that the group has an “extreme concern that not one of those information requests were submitted by the commission to Manitoba Hydro.”

“If you look at the questions individually, there are 129 of them, and the probability that not one of them is in scope or relevant is nil,” he said. “It leaves us to ponder whether or not they were actually vetted or whether …  there was an understanding as to their relevance or whether they were disregarded out of hand.”

He said the coalition believes Manitoba Hydro has a duty to address the questions.

“There is something seriously flawed when there is a preemptive dismissal of relevant potential evidence, without the protagonist even duking it out first and having an arbitrator determine what is relevant,” he said. “We will never know what questions Manitoba Hydro would have objected to, had they been submitted.”

In the coalition’s view, Meronek said, there are four questions that are quintessential: Is there a need for improved reliability on Manitoba Hydro’s power system? Is Bipole III the solution? If not, are there cheaper, better alternatives? And are there adverse environmental impacts that outweigh the need or benefit of any project?

Meronek agreed that improved reliability is required; the coalition questions whether the Bipole III project is the best way to achieve that goal, he said.

Manitoba Hydro, Meronek charged, was allowed to “Put their corporate feet up on the table, lean back and say, ‘Hey, none of this is relevant.’ You can’t look at information that relates to whether there is a better way, and you can’t look at issues relating to whether there is a less costly way. All that you can look at is, is Bipole III needed, and that’s it.”

In selecting potential alternative projects to compare to Bipole III, Meronek said Manitoba Hydro chose “only those [projects] which are patently unattractive. In other words, they didn’t include reasonable viable alternatives.”

The attorney for Manitoba Hydro, Douglas Bedford, agreed that questions of whether the project is needed and is the least costly alternative “may well be relevant.” However, Bedford said those questions were outside the scope of the CEC’s mandate to examine environmental issues.

The questions from the Bipole III Coalition, “Relate to issues that are collateral and minor to an environmental hearing,” he continued.

The chairman of the CEC disagreed.

“In my experience environmental impact assessment does include a ‘need for’ and ‘alternative to’ step,” chairman Terry Sargeant responded. “This is contained in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act … and also the guidelines that come out of CEAA tend to be followed in all environmental impact assessments.”

In addition, he said, the Province’s Minster of Conservation, Gord Mackintosh, directed the CEC to review the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, which contains a “needs for” and “alternatives to” chapter.

Manitoba Hydro’s counsel said that understanding the company’s explanation of why it needs this project, “Does not require you to engage in a more expansive, in a more detailed investigation into whether or not there are less costly ways to meet the alternative need, and then arguably to recommend that a less costly” alternative be pursued.

A Manitoba Hydro spokesperson told TransmissionHub Aug. 22 that the utility had responded to some questions from the group, though the spokesperson could not say how many questions may have been vetted by the CEC and not passed along.

“We’ve been answering questions from all participants all along,” the spokesperson said. “It’s not like we’re stonewalling anyone.”

In addition to requesting that their original questions be answered, the coalition asked the CEC to grant a 60-day adjournment of the hearing to provide sufficient time to review thousands of pages of documents in the matter.

“It is completely impossible to do this proceeding properly on [the existing] time line,” coalition counsel Ivan Holloway said.

Two other groups testifying at the Aug. 16 hearing – the Consumers Association of Canada and the Peguis First Nation – requested adjournments of 120 days, also to provide sufficient time for a “meaningful review” of the documents.

In closing comments, Sargent said the CEC would make “best efforts to have decisions made” regarding requests for adjournment some time during the week ending Aug. 24.