Western Power Line Sparks Interest

Blog, Energy, Frontier Centre

Recently, Manitoba Conservative MP Steven Fletcher promoted the building of a transmission line from Manitoba Hydro’s northern dams (two new ones are planned to be constructed in the next decade) to carry electricity to Saskatchewan and Alberta.  Conceptually, the new line would supply Alberta’s expanding oil-sands with needed and renewable electricity.

While the idea seems worthy of exploration, it is noteworthy that neither Alberta nor Saskatchewan report being involved in any discussions about the concept with Manitoba Hydro and its provincial government.  And, according to a recent media report, “… designing such a line would start from scratch, because Manitoba Hydro has  done  no preliminary engineering work or route planning for (such) a western line… “.

Rather, Manitoba’s NDP government and its subsidiary enterprise, Manitoba Hydro, have been focused on building Bipole III down the west-side of Lake Winnipeg to supply American utilities (until Manitoba demand rises enough to require the power for Manitobans).  In fact, Hydro has spent a billion or two already, made commitments to First Nations concerning jobs through to partnerships in the dams, and entered into contracts or pending contracts with American utilities.  As of now, Hydro contractors are busy staking out the route the new transmission line is to follow as it heads south, not west, at a cost of $4-billion or more.

So, what to make of all of this recent excitement, coming weeks before Ottawa announces details of its new $70-billion infrastructure fund.  According to the media report the “NDP government says it would welcome federal support for an improved east-west grid, but major new transmission links need a customer to champion them,  which is why the province has tended to look south”.

Publius suggests that the excitement is more than a bit over-blown.

While the concept clearly deserves a good review – and ignoring taking into account the provincial government’s general dislike of good reviews, those being reviews that are conducted independently of government and consider all options before having the Utility spend a billion or two – commitments already made likely doom the prospect for now.

If, regardless of the lateness of the idea, consideration is to be given to the proposal, without a billion or more of federal subsidies, the cost of generating and transmitting the power to Alberta’s oil sands would likely far exceed what the oil-sands companies would be willing to pay. 

Good ideas have to be more than conceptual in nature, they need to be sound from an economic basis – there are enough risky adventures-in-trade already underway for this heavily indebted province, it doesn’t need nor can it afford another.  Also, before a government commits scarce resources and puts its citizens at risk of massive rate shocks, wouldn’t it be preferable to take the time to consider all the options, first, before acting.