A public forum on Manitoba Hydro’s proposed Bipole III power line was held at the University of Manitoba on Sept. 22 to analyze the heated east vs. west side debate.
Bipole III is a new high voltage direct current transmission line proposed by Manitoba Hydro to transport energy generated by dams in northern Manitoba to the south.
The proposal has caused controversy over whether it will travel down the province on the east or west side of Lake Winnipeg.
The NDP wants to build along the west route, but the Conservatives prefer the east route. The Liberals want to provide electricity through underwater cables, and the Greens want to get rid of the proposal to try and reduce energy consumption.
A large audience at Thursday’s forum, titled “Bipole III: Social and Ethical Considerations in the East vs. West Side Debate,” listened to presentations from Jim Graham, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at U of M, John Ryan a senior scholar from U of W, and Lynne Fernandez from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
Each speaker gave a short presentation; issues such as security, reliability, cost, environmental concerns, aboriginal communities, export sales, landowner concerns and the proposed UNESCO World Heritage designation were all featured in the debate.
Graham, who spoke about the benefits of building the new line along the east route, explained that in addition to being shorter, there would be less energy lost along the line, it is 30 per cent less expensive and it has greater security against severe weather.
Graham argued there was “an ethical question that needs to be fixed,” noting the concerns of farmers whose land would be jeopardized by the west side route. Several farmers he has spoken with are concerned they will receive short-term compensation “for a long term problem.”
Ryan explained that an underwater power line was a viable option for Bipole IV to be built in 2025 but not for Bipole III. This, he explained, is because the materials required are not available in the next few years.
Lynne Fernandez argued for the west route because of Manitoba’s
Sustainable Development Act.
She explained the intact boreal forest on the east side was important to preserve, because it “contains almost twice as much carbon per unit area as the tropical rainforest.”
She also mentioned the UNESCO World Heritage designation. “We think that having an industrial sized power line will jeopardize the application,” Fernandez said.
An audience member pointed out that there was a lot of uncertainty from each of the speakers surrounding the issues of the debate, to which Graham responded by saying there has been a campaign of bad or non-information about Bipole III.
“Ethically I think we deserve to be told more clearly, particularly on the part of the NDP, as to why they chose to go on the west side,” Graham said, arguing that the government was “frightened” by the prospect of negotiating with environmental groups and first nations communities over the east side route.
Fernandez countered Graham’s argument by saying that, by going with the west side route, the NDP government was being responsible and considering the rights of aboriginal communities and the environmental impact the east side route would have.
“I think that the government is once again complying with the Sustainable Development Act,” she concluded.