Manitoba Hydro: The wrong and long way around

To the Editor:

Almost 75 percent of Manitoba's electric power is generated in Northern Manitoba and transmitted to the south by two direct current (DC) power lines. These lines (Bipole I and Bipole II) follow a single route to Winnipeg through the Interlake region. A third line (Bipole III) is now needed to maintain the security of supply.

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For the past 20 years, the plan was build Bipole III on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The route would have been a relatively direct route from the generating plants on the Nelson River to a converter station (Riel) on the eastern outskirts of Winnipeg. In 2007, the NDP government intervened and directed Hydro to build the line on a much longer and costlier route along the west side of the province.

The east-side route originally planned by Hydro was 885 kilometres in length, whereas the NDP government's route balloons to 1,364 kilometres, some 54 per cent longer. The primary reason given by members of the NDP government for re-routing the line was to avoid cutting trees in an area they hope will get designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site. They claimed that, if the forest were to be disturbed by a transmission line, UNESCO would drop consideration for this designation.

But both Banff and Jasper National Parks have been designated as UNESCO Heritage Sites. Both contain hotels, service stations, restaurants, roads, highways, mines, and yes, even power transmission lines. The human activity in Manitoba's proposed UNESCO Heritage Site, called Pimachiowin Aki, already includes roads, fishing camps, mining operations, winter roads and power lines. Even with the addition of a Bipole III line, there would be less human activity than at Banff or Jasper. The proposal should easily qualify for the heritage designation even with a transmission line.

With regard to a projected sale to Wisconsin and the frequently cited threat of a boycott by American environmental groups, it is inconceivable that any U.S. utility would refuse to buy clean hydro power, choosing instead to burn dirty coal for power generation, just to save the cutting of a small area of trees in another country. The cleared right-of-way would occupy less than 10 km. This is less than 0.025 per cent of the total 40,000-km area of the proposed UNESCO Heritage Site.

Development of the east side of Lake Winnipeg is crucial for the well being of the isolated aboriginal communities. The construction of a major transmission line would bring them business opportunities, jobs, roads and other infrastructure, especially running water. Because there are essentially the same number of First Nations bands on the east side as on the west side, the same benefits which Hydro has put in place for west-side First Nations people under its Community Development Initiative, could be made available to east-side First Nations people.

Ironically, the government's stated reason for Bipole III, as reliable backup to the existing DC lines, is seriously compromised not just because of its longer routing but also because it crosses some of the most severe storm-prone areas in the province. South central Manitoba has been known for years to be a locale for tornados and sleet storms.

It's easy to understand that a longer west-side line will cost more to build than an east-side line. However, there is another important component to consider, and that is losses. Loss of power occurs whenever electricity flows through a wire, causing heat to be generated. This heat is a waste and generally dissipates into the atmosphere. The longer west line has greater losses. Additional power must be generated to compensate for these losses. These additional losses must be factored into the overall cost of the line.

When all of the costs associated with the parameters involved in an east-side line and a west-side line are evaluated, the west-side line costs over $1 billion more than the east-side line. On a per capita basis, this is $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Manitoba.

The proposed route through southern Manitoba has triggered the ire of many landowners who farm the most productive land on the most fertile soils in one of the most favourable agro-climatic zones in western Canada. Given that the line will probably exist for 150 years, there is strong concern that adequate compensation for devalued land can never be properly evaluated. The economy of our province depends heavily on maintaining the profitability of the highly resourceful people in this part of the province.

Successful farmers today use GPS systems that are an integrated component of auto-steer technology. Nearby transmission lines could produce a catastrophic consequence should a GPS-related or operator-caused malfunction occur that results in a crash of large equipment into a tower. Power lines interfere with irrigation systems, with some manure injection equipment and with aerial application of herbicides and pesticides.

Rosann Wowchuk, NDP minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, has written to a number of Manitoba rural newspapers following a joint meeting with members of the Saskatchewan government held at Brandon on Feb. 11. Wowchuk said, "the decision to build the Bipole III transmission line down the west side of the province instead of the east brings us that much closer to the Saskatchewan market." This statement is one of gross deception, without any engineering endorsement. DC is used primarily for point-to-point transmission. Any significant extraction of power from this line for export to Saskatchewan would render the line useless for its intended purpose (as a reliable stand-in replacement for Bipoles I and II). Furthermore, it would be prohibitively costly because of the high cost of conversion from DC to AC. Minister Wowchuk is spinning a feeble argument to justify the west-side route.

Landowners who would be critically affected by a west-side route have been joined by engineers and executives of Manitoba Hydro, mostly retired, along with a growing number of concerned citizens of the province of Manitoba, to form the non-partisan Bipole III Coalition. More information than can be included in this article by the coalition's board members can be viewed at www.bipoleiiicoalition.ca.

The positions held by many of the following signatorieswere held prior to retirement from careers as practising professional engineers. Board members of the Bipole III Coalition include:

Ken Adam PhD, consultant on environmental and cold regions infrastructure

Len Bateman M.Sc., OM, CEO, Manitoba Hydro, Past-President, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (APEGM)

Colin Craig BA, Prairie Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Art Derry BSc (EE), Vice-President (Business Development), Manitoba Hydro

Dave Ennis BSc (CE), Executive Director, APEGM

Bob Foster MCP, former Vice-President, Wardrop Engineering, Past-President, APEGM

Karen Friesen BSc (Agr), President, Bipole III Coalition, Landowner

Jim Graham PhD, DSc, Professor Emeritus of Engineering, University of Manitoba, Past-President, Canadian Geotechnical Society

Garland Laliberte PhD, Dean Emeritus of Engineering and Head of Agricultural Engineering, University of Manitoba, Past-President, Canadian Society for Agricultural Engineering, Landowner

Glenn Morris PhD, Associate Dean of Engineering and Head of Civil Engineering, University of Manitoba

Al Myska BSc (CE), consulting engineer on northern and First Nations projects

Will Tishinski MSc, Vice-President (Power System Planning), Manitoba Hydro

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