Clean Environment Commission denies requests for delay of Bipole III hearings

Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission (CEC) has declined to delay environmental hearings on the C$3.3bn Bipole III transmission project.

The panel issued two separate decisions on Aug. 30 dealing with requests from the Bipole III coalition and the Consumers Association of Canada (CAC), which had both argued that additional time was needed to review, digest, and respond to some 10,000 pages of documents accumulated in the case. The panel issued an order denying a similar request by the Peguis First Nation on Aug. 31.

In the eight-page rulings on the two petitions, signed by chair Terry Sargeant on behalf of the five panel members who heard the arguments, the panel stated that it appreciated the complexity of the case before it. “The panel recognizes that the Bipole project is not insignificant in its size and in the amount and scope of the materials provided,” the CEC stated. “The panel also recognizes that there is much work involved in preparing for the hearings.”

However, the panel said the time allotted was in line with the time allotted for similar projects that were subject to CEC hearings.

“For the Wuskwatim [generation station and transmission line project] hearings, the period from the filing of the EIS [environmental impact statement] by the proponent to the start of the hearings was 11 months; for the [Winnipeg Red River] Floodway Expansion, it was six months. For Bipole III, the proposed start date for the hearings is 10 months after the filing of the EIS,” the rulings said.

The 120-day delay requested by the Peguis First Nation was also declined, though its petition sought a delay “to allow the Crown time to discharge its duty to consult Peguis First Nation in a meaningful and adequate way.”

In that decision, the CEC stated that the matter fell outside of its the jurisdiction. “It is not the commission’s job to tell the Crown how to conduct its business,” the order said. “This includes the content, the process and the timing of the Crown’s consultations.”

In addition, the Bipole III coalition asked that Manitoba Hydro be ordered to respond to a number of information requests submitted to the CEC, regarding a “need for and alternatives to” (NFAAT) review for the project.

The CEC sought clarification from the province’s Minister of Conservation Gord Mackintosh. According to the order dealing with the Bipole III coalition’s request, the minister responded that it was not his intention that the CEC conduct an NFAAT review, and the coalition’s request was denied.

Manitoba Hydro, the project’s developer, had objected to the proposed delays, stating that “delay brings with it costs in terms of planning, construction, [and] scheduling.” Hydro’s counsel, Douglas Bedford, also told the CEC that “ the employees who work on this project, or aspects of it, work on other projects and other aspects,” so a delay of Bipole III would also affect other projects.

The hearings before the CEC are part of its Environmental Impact Assessment process and will be open to the public. The project will also be the subject of a Crown-Aboriginal consultation process.

The proposed project has been a topic of controversy for several years.

In 2007, the provincial government chose a route for Bipole III along the west side of the province, in an alignment longer than the route originally identified by project developer Manitoba Hydro.

The route was selected to increase the reliability of the system without compromising an intact boreal forest that spans the Manitoba-Ontario border, which is a candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage designation, a spokesperson for the Manitoba cabinet told TransmissionHub.

The Bipole III project will improve reliability, increase capacity for future development, and sell surplus power to customers in the United States, according to Manitoba Hydro.

It will run 1,384 kilometers (860 miles) and will cost more than C$3.3bn (US$3.3bn) to build. Subject to regulatory approval, the project schedule calls for construction to get underway in late 2012, with a 2017 in-service date, according to Manitoba Hydro’s project web site.

This article was originally published on Aug. 30 and updated Aug. 31 to include information about the Peguis First Nations decision.