Bipole III and Submersible Cables

Over the last few months nothing has gotten the people of Manitoba more incensed then the route of Bipole III. Politically the issue has become increasingly partisan and some of the facts are becoming blurred. A quick history lesson on the issue starts in 2002 when Manitoba Hydro began speaking with First Nations and northern communities to discuss the possibility of an eastern route. Documents released then showed that there was little to no benefit was shown for First Nations with regards to financial and environmental sustainability nor was there any benefit for an all-weather east side road.

In 2003 all planning for an east side Bipole route was halted while the East Side Planning Initiative finished its investigations which concluded in 2005 and ultimately decided that an alternative route would have to be planned. The decision was made primarily by First Nations communities who are driven for the creation of a UNESCO environmental heritage site the size of Denmark. The park would span two provinces, had the support of the federal government, several First Nations, and a majority of environmental groups. What’s interesting to note is that the UNESCO site in Labrador was also subject to having power lines running through it on the east coast, what is important to note is that recently it too was spared and the line re-routed, this time with a submarine cable to Nova Scotia. This last part is something we’ll touch on later.

It was at this point that things became extremely partisan, Hugh McFadyen who for several years was criticised as a leader for the PCs who failed to build support for the party. Many negative comments were made over some of his promises such as when he said he would bring back the Winnipeg Jets. However with the Bipole III he truly had his first visible and justifiable political impact. The length of the alternate western route was nearly 500km longer and present costs put the Western Route at 2.2 billion. McFadyen estimates the east side route as being around 1.72 billion or about 450 million dollars less. It is unclear however where exactly McFadyen and the PCs have gotten their numbers as no official releases were made. However McFadyen has stuck to his guns and constantly attacked the western route which now is routed through several PC heavy ridings.

When discussing finances it is important to note here is that historically Manitoba Hydro has spent over $400 million dollars in its negotiations with First Nations groups. Considering the 5 main First Nations groups involved with Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO site it becomes obvious that these superficial costs for an eastern route could easily exceed the western route.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has also jumped in with its support for the eastern route. However on the taxpayer aspect it is important to note that none of Manitoba Hydro’s past or current projects are found within the budget. Neither the 5.1 billion dollar Conawapa dam or the 1.5 billion dollar Wuskawatim dam can be found here either. In fact Manitoba Hydro is a crown corporation and these projects, including Bipole III, will be paid by ratepayers. These are the same Manitoba ratepayers who in fact pay some of the lowest rates for electricity in Canada and the world.

So obviously this issue is not truly about money at heart, it is certainly an issue but not however the deciding factor. What is apparent however is now instead this western route hast put it solely in Manitobans and particularly rural farmers backyards. Coincidentally, these are traditionally Progressive Conservative areas and politically this costs the NDP nothing to raise the ire of this voting base. Naturally those now on or near the route are incensed, just as those on the east side were earlier. So rather then this becoming a financial issue, this is increasingly becoming a NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) issue.

I discussed earlier how just last week Newfoundland and Labrador put their hydro wires under the Atlantic rather then through a UNESCO site. Enter Dr. John Ryan, a retired geography professor from the University of Winnipeg. In 2008 he proposed a very detailed and lengthy report discussing the issue of putting a submarine cable under Lake Winnipeg. The report is readily available if searched for on the internet and details how the overland route would only go through 363 kilometres of boreal forest and the submerged cable would follow a length of 350km. Costs of the route were very specific and placed the cost around 2.0 billion, about $200 million less then western route, Dr. Ryan also states the savings could be up to $450 million when line losses are included. More importantly this Lake Winnipeg route would significantly reduce the impact on Manitobans life, was safer from the elements, reduced the damage done to boreal forests, and most importantly of all kept the hydro lines out of peoples backyards.

Premier Selinger to his credit did allow for the possibility of this route and entered into discussions with Ryan. However some time later it was clear they had no intention of investigating this route and rather they and Manitoba Hydro were focused on fast tracking the western route. Liberal leader Jon Gerrard has championed this route but it will take much more then he to get this project done. If McFadyen truly has the best interests of Manitobans at heart he would be wise to investigate this project more thoroughly. Recently when Gerrard questioned Manitoba Hydro CEO Bob Brennan whether he had contacted Transmission Developers in Toronto who specialize in underwater cables to which he replied no. The odds of a submersible route for Bipole III seem less likely now more then ever.

It has become clear that in all likelihood partisan politics and the strength of NDP support in seat heavy Winnipeg will put Bipole III down the western route. There is still time for a Lake Winnipeg cable however, if responsible leadership can be found will support it. If the western route is finalised however, it must be noted that Manitoba Hydro plan a Bipole IV and Bipole V shortly. Lets hope for all of our sakes that Manitoba Hydro have fully investigated submersible cables and routes by then.