Groups seek delay of Bipole III hearings

Two opponents of Manitoba Hydro’s planned Bipole III project have asked the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) to delay the Oct. 1 start date for environmental hearings so officials have sufficient time to digest a large amount of material submitted for review.

Of the three groups that presented motions during a daylong hearing in Winnipeg, Manitoba Aug. 16, the Bipole III Coalition and the Consumers Association of Canada asked the commission to delay the start of the hearings by at least two months. The Peguis First Nation also presented a motion to the panel.

The commission is deliberating the motions and will provide responses to them in due course, Cathy Johnson, secretary to the commission, told TransmissionHub Aug. 17.

Although there is no time frame for a decision imposed by law, Johnson said, “We’re trying to get them done as quickly as we can.” The scheduled Oct. 1 start of the hearings necessitates a relatively prompt decision, she noted.

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.

Johnson confirmed that the panel has approximately 10,000 pages of documentation to review in conjunction with the project, but noted that “some pages only have one question,” so the mountain of material may not be as daunting as the numbers make it sound, she said.

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

In 2007, the provincial government chose a route for Bipole III that runs down the west side of the province, in an alignment longer than the route originally identified by 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 earlier this year.

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.