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Great Lakes Article:

Manitoba and Ontario consider power deal
Canadian Press
06/20/03

Thunder Bay, Ont. - The premiers of Manitoba and Ontario met at a picturesque waterfall Friday to sign a document that could lead to construction of a joint $5.5-billion hydroelectric megaproject.

"We've agreed to move forward in developing a new source of power," Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said at Kakabeka Falls near Thunder Bay.
He said if a $2-million feasibility study shows the plan is a good one, it could help reduce Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions from power generation by one-sixth, helping it meet its Kyoto requirements.
It involves building a new 1,250-megawatt hydroelectric generating station in northern Manitoba. The station has been on the drawing board at Manitoba Hydro for years and already has a name, Conawapa, after a Blackfoot Indian who accompanied explorer Anthony Henday on his trip through the area.

It also involves a new transmission line to carry such a huge amount of power into southern Ontario where it is needed. That 1,250 megawatts is enough to service 600,000 houses.

It would further Manitoba Premier Gary Doer's goal of seeing an east-west power grid developed in Canada.

"This just makes good economic sense as well as good environmental sense," Mr. Doer said.

Ironically, the plant and line could have been operating by now if an agreement the two provinces entered into about 15 years ago had been fulfilled.

But Ontario Hydro backed out, paying Manitoba around $150-million in penalties as a result.

The Ontario utility had decided it wouldn't need as much power as it had estimated earlier and wanted to keep rates as low as possible.
In hindsight, that was a bad decision, suggested Mr. Doer, who was involved in the talks as a cabinet minister in the government of then-premier Howard Pawley. The deal finally fell apart after he moved into opposition in 1988 and Tory Premier Gary Filmon had taken control.
The federal government has agreed to chip in $300,000 to help pay the cost of the feasibility study, but it has not yet agreed to pay the $1-billion Manitoba and Ontario would like to see committed to a transmission line.

"I think we're going to encourage them to contribute as much a possible," Mr. Eves said.

Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton pointed to Friday's announcement as evidence that the Eves government has mismanaged the hydro file.

"The Conservative government, the great deregulators and privatizers, have had to rely on Manitoba's public system to make sure the lights stay on in Ontario," Mr. Hampton said.

"Now, if only Ernie Eves will go all the way and adopt my plan for a publicly owned hydro system."

The study will look at the economic and technical issues involved in the project and will take only about six months to complete.

Assuming the answers are positive, much thornier environmental issues will have to be tackled. The transmission line poses a much greater potential environmental impact than the generating station.

The damage from river diversions and flooding has already been done in northern Manitoba and Conawapa would not see water move outside the existing banks of the Nelson River, where it would be located.
Over the last decade, Manitoba governments have tried to smooth relations with northern First Nations angry over past hydro-developments, to reduce their opposition to new projects.

The effort has been reasonably successful, with only one holdout, but that doesn't mean there won't be objections raised during any environmental review of this project, which will draw in First Nations not previously affected.

And the Western Canada Wilderness Committee has already said Manitoba's woodland caribou population is threatened both by Hydro's plans and by logging on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, close to the Ontario boundary.

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