Bipole III hearing to resume to review proposed route adjustments

The Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) hearing on the proposed Bipole III transmission project will resume on March 4 and convene eight additional sessions before concluding on March 14, the CEC said on Feb. 22.

The sessions will focus on a 438-page supplemental assessment report on three route adjustments, which project developer Manitoba Hydro submitted to the Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship on Jan. 28 in response to its request to adjust the routes to protect woodland caribou and moose populations. The report provided the environmental assessment undertaken at the request of the stewardship for the three route adjustments.

The hearing on the 500-kV HVDC project began Oct. 1, 2012, and continued in almost daily sessions until Nov. 22, 2012, generating nearly 6,000 pages of transcripts covering 29 separate sessions. The upcoming round of sessions, to be held in Winnipeg, Man., should be the final sessions according to CEC secretary Cathy Johnson, though much work will remain to be done.

“Once the sessions are concluded, the [CEC] panel goes away to write its report,” Johnson told TransmissionHub.

By law, the panel has up to 90 days to complete its work, though it is hoping to complete its task in a shorter time, she said.

When the report is issued, it will go to Manitoba Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship Gord Mackintosh, who will make a decision about whether to grant an Environmental Act license for the project.

CEC public hearings are more formal than similar proceedings in the United States. A CEC panel will hear from representatives of the project’s proponent, Manitoba Hydro and several parties that have been granted intervenor status. Neither the proponent nor the intervenors will be limited as to the amount of time allotted.

Members of the public may also make presentations, Johnson said, but must register at least seven days in advance of the hearings, and will be limited to 15 minutes. Members of the public who do not register to speak will attend the proceedings only as observers.

The project schedule had originally called for construction to begin in late 2012, with a 2017 in-service date, subject to regulatory approval, according to Manitoba Hydro’s project website. With the delay, however, Manitoba Hydro officials are looking at the schedule and working to determine what might be done to maintain the 2017 in-service date.

“There are some options in terms of employing more crews to do line construction as opposed to the original plan, so it will cost more but there are ways of speeding up the schedule,” a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson told TransmissionHub. Other options include increasing the amount of construction performed during the winter season.

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 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 in a  previous interview.

The Bipole III project, proposed to link Manitoba Hydro’s northern power generating complex on the Lower Nelson River with its conversion and delivery system in southern Manitoba will improve reliability, increase capacity for future development, and sell surplus power to customers in the U.S., according to the utility.

It will run 860 miles and cost more than C$3.3bn (US$3.23bn) to build.