Conference Board Not Endorsing Manitoba Dam Strategy

Blog, Energy, Peter Holle

The “elephant in the room” public policy issue that looms largest over Manitoba’s future is the Province’s plan to build several new hydro dams.   This investment of up to $20 billion will create massive capacity to service mid-western electricity markets in the United States.

Unfortunately, as one of Canada’s most foremost energy analysts Tom Adams discussed so well in a summer commentary for the Frontier Centre, those markets have changed drastically.  The shale gas revolution, in particular, has yielded a bounty of much cheaper power sources in Wisconsin and Minnesota – with the unfortunate effect for Manitoba of making its hydro power uncompetitive.  Perhaps even permanently.

The obvious response by Manitoba policy makers should be to press “pause” on the ambitious construction plans now underway.  If not, provincial power prices will necessarily skyrocket as billions of new assets are formally recognized on Manitoba’s books.   Second, selling power for 3 cents a Kwh when it costs 10 cents to produce exposes taxpayers to huge and growing losses.  Ultimately, it could even spell bankruptcy.

So it was a bit of a surprise when the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the Conference Board, one of Canada’s most respected think tanks, was endorsing the Province’s plan of hugely rolling the dice and building huge new power capacity for export.

In an attempt to understand the support for Owen’s story, I went on the Conference Board site and scanned the Board’s report on natural gas.

Surprise, surprise, virtually no mention of Manitoba in the report, nor any detailed or even summary review of the government’s hydro plans.  The only relevant statement to be found in the report was a bland comment that the demand for natural gas was based, in part, on projects either now underway or planned.

The story was based, it would appear, on off-hand comments by Len Coad, apparently the Board’s director of energy, environment and transportation, and even when you carefully read the quote the reported based his story on, you find the words “…more likely that an electric utility would  choose  hydro if they have hydro projects that they can develop at the costs that are currently prevailing in that industry”.  Again, nothing in the report itself, a report focused on natural gas.

The article has a headline – Stick to building dams, board says – yet no where in the report is that statement made.

A puff piece to curry favour with the powers that be?   You decide.

Is this type of reporting in the public interest of average Manitobans?