West-side hydro line right approach: lobby group

March 18, 2011

U.S. conservationists back NDP strategy

A U.S.-based conservation group has weighed into the Manitoba Hydro Bipole III debate, arguing that moving the transmission line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg would harm the boreal forest.

The Pew Environment Group’s report, which came out earlier this week, found Canada’s boreal forest is one of the world’s great storehouses of fresh water that influences the environment of the entire planet.

Pew spokesman Steve Kallick said Thursday the non-profit think-tank has followed the Bipole debate and believes former Manitoba premier Gary Doer got it right when his government made the decision to build the new line down the west side of the province.

The Doer government made that call more than five years ago to protect the boreal forest on the east side and support efforts to designate the area a United Nations world heritage site.

“We feel the approach taken so far is beneficial from an environmental and business point of view,” Kallick said. “Anybody who wants to change that approach has to say how it’s good for business and the environment.”

Pew’s report, one of the first attempts to bring together all data on the boreal forest, concludes it’s the most water-rich region on Earth at a time when countries have ever-growing demands for fresh water.

The 76-page report, titled A Forest of Blue: Canada’s Boreal Forest, the World’s Waterkeeper, also said the forests hold an estimated 147 billion tonnes of carbon—equivalent to more than 25 years worth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

It also said more must be done to control resource development such as building new hydro dams, protecting wetlands and implementing conservation agreements already in place. The group has invested more than $50 million in an international campaign to protect a minimum of 50 per cent of Canada’s boreal forest.

The report also adds weight to comments that environmental groups outside the country are watching the Bipole debate and how it will play out as Manitobans head to the voting booth Oct. 4.

Hugh McFadyen’s Progressive Conservatives have long opposed the western route of Bipole III in favour of a shorter, and less expensive, route down the east side.

McFadyen has said if he’s elected, one of the first things he would do as premier is cancel the west-side route because of escalating costs.

Pew said in its report, to build Bipole III down the east side of the province “would impact the largest contiguous block of intact forests left in the world.”

The price tag for building Bipole III could top more than $4 billion, almost twice the original cost. The anticipated higher cost is not due to building Bipole III on the longer route on the west side of the province, but because of the increased cost of equipment needed to convert electricity for transmission.

The new transmission line is one of Hydro’s biggest projects over the next decade as it builds more northern dams to export more power to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and works on deals to sell power to Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Pew also praised the province for protecting its northern peatlands as an offset to carbon emissions.

Last year, Manitoba said it set aside two new protected areas with significant carbon stores, totalling nearly 400,000 hectares.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2011 A2

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