Category Archives: Canada permitting

Getting interesting in Manitoba!

Coalition lobbies for halt of Manitoba transmission line project

So the government rejects the “deal,” and I’ll bet their idea is to just go ahead and build it and screw over the Metis.  ???  We shall see…

And getting interesting in Minnesota too:

Minnesota Power hopeful Canadian transmission line will stay on track

Some columns with background on the mess on the other side of the border:

BRODBECK: NDP’s reign of terror at Hydro will take a generation to overcome

BRODBECK: Time for Hydro to come clean on Keeyask

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Filed under Canada permitting, Hearings, Maps, Media, MP

RRANT applies as Commenter in Canada

RRANT, Residents and Ratepayers Against Not-so-Great-Northern Transmission have filed to be a “Commenter” in Canada’s National Energy Board proceeding for the “Manitoba-Minnesota” transmission line, the Canada portion of Great Northern Transmission Line.  It’ll address both need and route, but particularly need.

This transmission project is HUGE, it’s a bundled 500 kV line with the capacity of Susquehanna-Roseland, over 4,000 MVA!  And it is yet another transmission project that isn’t needed, and is designed 8+ times too large for the stated/claimed need and the Presidential Permit, particularly because one dam was admittedly not needed.

Hold yer horses, Conawapa…

And in Minnesota, it was weird… for routing, people did not get proper notice, and agency comments were being hidden off in the EIS and not incorporated into the hearing record, comments that were oh-so-relevant in routing, so I did have to raise a stink about that:

Transcript (partial)_8-13-2015

So on to Ccanada… Oh, Canadda!!! How will this go in Canada?  Why the NEB process?

Here’s the HEARING ORDER: A88851-1 NEB – Letter – Manitoba Hydro – MMTP – Hearing Order EH-001-2017 – A5Y6X8

How to participate? GUIDANCE HERE!

Much is already online, and they have the filings up and will utilize what’s been filed thus far, and those intervenors in the earlier Canadian process are intervenors in this one.

Here’s the Canadian docket with the Application.

The Minnesota part of this project required a lot of travel, and testing out the “new” camper in Big Bog State Park (never again, way too hot and humid, what a mosquito and fly hell hole!).  The rain was so intense that the Rainy River was over its banks, water in all the ditches, covering roads.  That was July 2014, and I’m still brushing and vacuuming fly carcases out of the recesses of screens!

We’ll see what Canada has to say about this!  No, not high hopes…

 

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Notice of Hearing – Canada’s NEB

Got this in the inbox yesterday, and this Canadian process WILL address “need” for this transmission line — in Canada it’s called the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project (MMTP):

National Energy Board Notice of Public Hearing

The National Energy Board (NEB) has issued a Notice of Public Hearing indicating they will hold a public hearing for the Manitoba–Minnesota Transmission Project (MMTP) and will conduct an environmental assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

Intervention deadline: February 7, 2018

From the NEB site:

Support for participants

Participant Funding

Participant funding is available. Refer to the Participant Funding Program page for information on deadlines, eligibility, how to apply for funding, and how to submit claims.

Process Advisor

The Process Advisor’s role is to support the public (e.g., landowners, concerned citizens, environmental non-governmental organizations) and Aboriginal groups if they have questions about the NEB’s assessment of the project.

Matt Groza
Process Advisor

National Energy Board
E-mail: MMTP.ProcessHelp@neb-one.gc.ca
Telephone: 403-614-4952
Telephone (toll free): 1-800-899-1265
Facsimile: 403-292-5503
Facsimile (toll free): 1-877-288-8803
TTY (Teletype): 1-800-632-1663

 

 

 

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January 17 – Canada will announce public hearings

Public participation, getting the lay of the land — it’s messy, it’s time consuming, and it’s where it’s at in transmission siting proceeding, it is the essential guts of transmission line siting.  Get ready for another round of meetings some time after January 17, 2018 up in Canada!

Last report was that Canada;s National Energy Board had suddenly decided that there was a need for a public hearing process that had somehow been left out of the mix! WHAT? More pubic process is always better, but a series of public hearings for this huge transmission project, both in length and capacity, isn’t too much to ask of Canada.  It’s expected!

Well, Manitoba Hydro is now agreeing to the public hearings… mighty nice of them.  Something tells me they had no choice.  It’s still up in the air how soon that will happen, but mark you calendars, because on January 17, Manitoba Hydor will make the announcement of the hearing dates and locations!

Published in CBC news:

Manitoba Hydro line to Minnesota to go through public hearing process

Despite delay, Crown corporation hopes $453M line will be complete by 2020

Manitoba Hydro accepts a decision by the federal government to put a transmission line to the U.S. through the public hearing process, officials at the Crown corporation say.

The province-owned utility was told in December that Ottawa officials had accepted a National Energy Board recommendation that the $453-million Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project go through a certificate process, which means it will be subject to more public hearings.

Hydro had instead sought a process in which the energy board would do a technical assessment and issue a permit to build the 213-kilometre transmission line without more public hearings. Hydro officials said a public hearing process involving all stakeholders, including Indigenous groups, had already been done by the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission.

“We respect Ottawa’s decision to adopt the National Energy Board’s recommendation regarding a certificate process for the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project,” said Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen.

The public hearing process and final decision to approve the line by Ottawa must be completed within 15 months, the energy board said.

Owen also said Hydro officials are happy the energy board has “expeditiously issued a directive regarding commencement of the federal proceedings” and committed to a Hydro request to try to avoid duplication of other measures that were completed by the province and the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission.

Last year, the Crown corporation expressed concern that the National Energy Board certificate process would delay the project, but Manitoba Hydro still hopes to complete the project by 2020, said Owen.

In late December, Hydro asked the NEB for a Jan. 17 advertising deadline to let people know when and where the hearings will take place. Those dates and places have yet to be made public.

And an earlier article:

$453M Manitoba Hydro line to Minnesota could face delay after energy board recommendation

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Whoa, Manitoba Hydro line delayed!

$453M Manitoba Hydro line to Minnesota could face delay after energy board recommendation

Really! And here’s the info straight from the National Energy Board’s “Manitoba-Minnesota” page:

31 October 2017: Recommendation to the Minister regarding Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project [Filing A87404]

Highlights

  • The recommendation to elevate the regulatory process to a certificate was made following careful analysis of recent Supreme Court rulings and the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission recommendation report for the project.
  • A certificate process will ensure that Indigenous considerations are fully taken into account as part of the Board’s assessment.
  • The process will provide greater regulatory certainty to Manitoba Hydro as it imposes a legislated time limit on the assessment.
  • Wherever possible, the NEB will seek to minimize duplication between the provincial and federal processes.
  • The NEB is committed to carrying out a regulatory assessment of the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project that is open, fair, timely and accessible.

Bottom line:

Therefore the Board is recommending to the Minister, pursuant to subsection 58.14 (1) of the NEB Act that the Project be designated by order of the Governor in Council under section 58.15 of the NEB Act as an IPL that is to be constructed and operated in accordance with a certificate issued under section 58.16.

There will be an Order, either following through on this recommendation, or denying it and proceeding. But this is an interesting twist, focused on First Nation rights.

Here’s where you can get more information from the Canadian side of the border:

National Energy Board – Manitoba-Minnesota transmission page

Here’s Canada’s Clean Environment Commission’s Manitoba-Minnesota transmission page

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Oxymoronic Manitoba Hydro!!

CanadaDry

RECEIVED!!!  Damaged in transit, one can blew up, and I’d guess caused much consternation and intrigue at the Post Office.  Package ripped up, stuck half in a bag, or half in the bag put in the bag by someone on overtime.

OH MY…  A BRIBE!!!  A CapX 2020 La Crosse hat, and now this!!!  In a plain brown wrapper, but we know where this came from (ginger pale ale next time?!?!) (and about that little retirement tico in Costa Rico?!?).  To be clear, it’s not Manitoba Hydro because that would indeed be contrary to Canada Dry!

Here’s a toast to Minnesota Power, and their attorney ERK too, and to another year of being a royal Pain In The Patoot to them.  We’re not done with the Not-so-Great Northern Transmission Line, and we’re not done with the Menahga Transmission Project yet (though on Menahga, we’re making progress, EH?).

p.s. I don’t know where I put my coal supply, it’s gonna be late this year…

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Filed under Canada permitting, Presidential Permit, Routing Docket

Concerns about hydro? Really, Fresh Energy?

conawapa

In today’s STrib, there’s a piece written by Ron Way about hydro power, with a familiar scenario presenting about how then Northern States Power did a deal with Sen. Gaylord Nelson to get its Allen S. King coal plant built, there’s a book there waiting to be written.  But what’s disturbing is the commentary from Fresh Energy’s Micheal Noble with “concerns” about hydro.  Concerns?  And what exactly have you done about those concerns?  I have no time for this “concern” first, because ME3, Fresh Energy’s prior identity, had an active hydro program, and that was disappeared, and second, that the Great Northern Transmission Project has been going on for more than three years and Fresh Energy was absent.

Yet this OpEd today had this to say:

Such projects are still being built, and the social disorder they cause has a connection to the Twin Cities, because here’s where the electricity is consumed. This is a very large concern of Michael Nobel at the nonprofit Fresh Energy in St. Paul.

Here’s why:

Manitoba Hydro of Winnipeg operates a giant system of hydropower dams and reservoirs on the Nelson River that flows north to Hudson Bay. A raging controversy concerns the Cree Nation, which is seeing its pastoral culture shredded and livelihoods shattered by sprawling reservoirs in that system.

Xcel Energy has a long-term power-supply contract with Manitoba Hydro. So in a very real sense, the electricity used here is contributing directly to Cree suffering.

What especially worries Nobel is that Manitoba Hydro plans to aggressively expand its network of dams and reservoirs, further devastating the Cree. Some suspect that Xcel will seek much of the future supply from Manitoba as its aging baseload plants in Minnesota are retired within the next 20 years.

Assessing whether hydropower can be classed with solar and wind as “clean and green renewable energy” is, Nobel said, complicated at best.

Overland’s comment about that “concern” about hydro:

This is nothing new.  Of course Xcel will get more power from Manitoba Hydro now.  So will Minnesota Power.  IF anyone is so concerned about the new dam going up in Manitoba, why is it that that NO ONE intervened in MP’s hydro transmission case, where Minnesota Power and Manitoba Hydro are building the largest capacity transmission project (500 kV triple bundled) in Minnesota in decades (it matches the Forbes-Chisago line).  The Certificate of Need is long done (PUC Docket 12-1163).  That routing docket (14-21) is also now complete, waiting only for the judge’s recommendation and Public Utilities Commission decision.  Not one funded group intervened, Fresh Energy was no where to be seen.  Without transmission, that hydro power wouldn’t be coming into Minnesota.  No that they’ll have that transmission line built, it’s going to be marketed and imported, nothing will stop it.  Fresh Energy’s hydro program disappeared about the same time ME3 did.  This concern about Xcel’s increased use of hydro is more than three years too late — the largest transmission line in Minnesota is about to be routed.  “Concern” doesn’t cut it.  You have to show up.

What are some Fresh Energy’s concerns that play out in its spending?

$460k for being the RE-AMP Media Center

$67k for being the RE-AMP Host

$159,915 to Michael Noble (salary & benefits)

RE-AMP was a major promoter of coal gasification back in 2005 when Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Project was getting going (as a result of the 2003 Prairie Island nuclear deal).  Then RE-AMP became a major promoter of transmission.  Good choices, folks…

And $159k is just too much to be paid in a “non-profit” because to sustain that level of pay, well, it takes a lot of hustling.  We see what advocacy activities are taken on, and what advocacy activities are avoided.  The “mission” of Fresh Energy is to “Shape and drive realistic, visionary policies that benefit all,” but I’ve seen advocacy of policies that presume the public interest but in fact work against it — coal gasification and transmission are two that come to mind.

Oh, and now Jeff Broberg is on the board!!!  Remember his antics for Oronoco Twp. on the CapX 2020 Hampton – La Crosse transmission line?  There’s Oronoco Twp’s Exhibit 89 and Oronoco Township – Testimony of Broberg and Exhibits – see Exhibit 7!  And Oronoco squeals about “new testimony?!?”  Someone of his claimed experience should know better…  His spot on the Board of Fresh Energy makes me wonder what they’ll do next!

And hydro?  Fresh Energy used to have a hydro program specifically about the dams about Manitoba.  What happened to it?  Here’s the ME3 Hydro page back when they had a real website.

From Ron Way in today’s STrib, the full piece:

Is hydropower green? Not really

‘Nothing alters a river as totally as a dam.’ 

Harnessing energy from flowing water has helped advance societies since the days of the Roman Empire. “Hydropower” launched the Industrial Revolution, shaped modern Europe and fueled an emerging America.

Hydropower’s attractions surged in the mid-19th century, when dams were first fitted with turbines to produce electricity, setting off a building frenzy that filled American rivers and streams with thousands of dams.

Water energy at St. Anthony Falls made early Minneapolis a thriving center for mills to saw timber floated in from northern forests, and later to grind wheat into flour, making the city’s milling district world-famous.

It all makes sense. Hydropower’s fuel — water, moved by gravity — just keeps rolling along. No need for an expensive mine or long coal hauls. Amid present-day worries over climate change, emission-free hydroelectricity is seen by some as “clean, green and renewable” — unlike gas-fired and especially coal-fired plants that spew greenhouse gases by the millions of tons.

But is hydropower, in the larger sense, “green”?

Far from it, as more and more are coming to realize.

Hydropower relies on dams that impound water and create vertical pressure to spin turbines. Dams and reservoirs have profound environmental effects that are coming under intense scrutiny, with one prominent national group, American Rivers, pushing hard — and successfully — for dam removal.

“Nothing alters a river as totally as a dam,” writes author and river advocate Patrick McCully.

Minnesota native Denny Caneff at the Wisconsin River Alliance in Madison adds that the relatively small amount of power generated from hydro is “disproportionate [to] the environmental harm that it causes.”

A dam, in essence, is a curtain of concrete that severs a river. The reservoir it creates is wholly unlike the river it replaces, and the change is certainly not for the better.

University of Minnesota biosystems researcher Chris Lenhert’s recent report for the McKnight Foundation on effects of the Ford Dam reads like a rap sheet on how the dam’s reservoir has radically altered the Mississippi Gorge through Minneapolis.

“The dam submerged one of the Mississippi’s largest high-gradient, boulder-and-cobble streambeds and almost entirely blocked upstream movement of fish and mussels,” Lenhert said, adding that many mid-channel islands in the Gorge were destroyed — and, with them, prime eagle habitat.

The idea was to promote barge navigation, a plan that went bust. Some now say the dam, which annually costs taxpayers more than $1 million to maintain, should go. The only remaining commerce at the Ford Dam is a privately owned hydro plant that produces a piddling amount of electricity (less than a tenth of a percent of all power generated in the state).

Caneff said the downside effects listed in Lenhert’s report apply to most every dam.

Here’s how:

As they impound water, dam reservoirs slow a river’s flow. Its sediment load is dropped, creating a silted bottom that chokes out aquatic vegetation. Reservoirs trap toxics like PCBs and heavy metals along with nutrients that grow algae in water that’s warmer than the river it covered up.

Dams are mostly built at river constrictions where gradients and rocky bottoms create riffles and rapids that oxygenate and clean the water. Gravel in pooled eddies is ideal fish spawning habitat.

Impermeable dams block fish movement, so species in the pool are far fewer than in the larger river. Mussels and clams, whose filtering is a vital for water quality, disappear, as they have in the Mississippi Gorge.

All of these effects are present at nearby River Falls, Wis., where critics have stalled the city’s application to relicense its two power dams on the Kinnickinnic River.

Friends of the Kinni and a local chapter of Trout Unlimited cite another casualty of the dams: The falls that is River Falls’ namesake has been submerged under the languid reservoir. That’s similar to Ford Dam’s reservoir, which covered a 5-mile stretch of world-class rapids through the Mississippi Gorge. Removing the dams would restore free-flowing rivers and natural features.

It’s the same at Taylors Falls, Minn., and neighboring St. Croix Falls, Wis. Both were named for a falls that’s under the reservoir of Xcel Energy’s hydroelectric dam, which flooded one of the most scenic and environmentally valuable places on the entire St. Croix.

It was the St. Croix, by the way, that was central in a curious tale of intrigue about replacing hydropower with coal. You see, it’s usually the other way around.

In the 1950s, Xcel’s predecessor, Northern States Power Co. (NSP), was pivoting from hydro to coal and nuclear baseload generators. NSP had gone through a bruising battle over its St. Croix Falls hydro plant and wanted to avoid a similar public maelstrom over another hydro project planned for farther up the river. This one would flood a huge area all the way to Danbury, Wis.

NSP was eyeing a large coal-fired plant at Stillwater, but an upstart politician, Gaylord Nelson of nearby Clear Lake, Wis., wouldn’t hear of it. Nelson, who later served two terms as Wisconsin’s governor and three terms as a U.S. senator, was also eyeing the St. Croix. But his vision was some kind of set-aside protection. He didn’t want a tall, carbon-spewing stack piercing the St. Croix’s skyline.

NSP dispatched emissaries to a remote cabin near Mellen, Wis., with a deal: Nelson would drop his objection to the coal plant, and NSP would donate 30,000 acres it owned for the planned second reservoir on the St. Croix.

Nelson “cut a deal with the devil and accepted,” said one who attended the meeting. The Allen S. King Plant today still sends smoke up its very tall stack at Stillwater, and a legacy achievement of the late Sen. Nelson is a St. Croix that’s a federally protected Wild and Scenic River.

Another downside to hydropower is the social disruption of the reservoirs.

Near Hayward, Wis., the 15,300-acre Chippewa Flowage, renowned for trophy muskies, was built in 1925 to stabilize flow on the Chippewa River for downstream hydropower plants. The project proceeded over strong but futile objections of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Chippewa, whose lands were flooded.

Construction in 1933 of the massive dams and reservoirs of the Tennessee Valley Authority meant relocating 15,000 families and destruction of whole towns.

North Dakota’s Garrison Dam displaced Mandan and other bands on the Fort Berthold Reservation and South Dakota’s Oahe took thousands of prime farmland acres from the Cheyenne. All the tribes strongly opposed the projects and refused to sell land, but it didn’t matter because the builders had eminent domain on their side.

Same for the colossal Columbia River hydro projects — some 125 hydro plants in all — in the Pacific Northwest that displaced scores of American Indian tribes in four states. Worse, operating the system profoundly altered a salmon-based Indian culture whose history spans 3,500 years.

Such projects are still being built, and the social disorder they cause has a connection to the Twin Cities, because here’s where the electricity is consumed. This is a very large concern of Michael Nobel at the nonprofit Fresh Energy in St. Paul.

Here’s why:

Manitoba Hydro of Winnipeg operates a giant system of hydropower dams and reservoirs on the Nelson River that flows north to Hudson Bay. A raging controversy concerns the Cree Nation, which is seeing its pastoral culture shredded and livelihoods shattered by sprawling reservoirs in that system.

Xcel Energy has a long-term power-supply contract with Manitoba Hydro. So in a very real sense, the electricity used here is contributing directly to Cree suffering.

What especially worries Nobel is that Manitoba Hydro plans to aggressively expand its network of dams and reservoirs, further devastating the Cree. Some suspect that Xcel will seek much of the future supply from Manitoba as its aging baseload plants in Minnesota are retired within the next 20 years.

Assessing whether hydropower can be classed with solar and wind as “clean and green renewable energy” is, Nobel said, complicated at best.

 

Ron Way is a former official with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior. He lives in Edina.

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Filed under Canada permitting, Certificate of Need, Condemnation, Media, Presidential Permit, Routing Docket

Pimicikamak take over Jenpeg Dam

eviction-notice
Photo used from CBC at this link

 


Chief Cathy Merrick addressing the nation of Pimicikamak at Jenpeg

From their Pimicikamak Take Over Statement, issued today, Pimicikamak’s road map to positive change includes:

  • A public apology from Premier Greg Selinger for past and present harms suffered​ by all hydro-affected peoples and their lands.
  • A commitment from Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro to engage in a good-faith process to fulfill promises in the NFA, including measures related to community development, environmental mitigation and maximum employment opportunities.
  • A revenue sharing agreement and/or water rental arrangement with Pimicikamak.
  • A commitment from Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro to undertake a comprehensive review of how the northern hydropower system is operated with a view to minimizing environmental impacts.

Lots of press coverage yesterday and today.  Yesterday:

First Nation want to evict Hydro workers over flood damage concerns

Reserve, Hydro remain at odds

Cross Lake First Nation issues eviction notice to Manitoba Hydro, occupation …

Today – Manitoba Hydro has been evicted:

Manitoba Hydro evicted from northern dam station

Hydro employees evicted from Jenpeg by Pimicikamak First Nation members

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Hold yer horses, Conawapa…

conawapa

The recommendations of the Public Utilities Board of Manitoba, in short:

The Panel recommends to the Government of Manitoba that:

THE FULL REPORT.

So if Canada’s Public Utilities Board says, “Manitoba Hydro had not made a strong enough business case for building the Conawapa dam,” why would there be any question that the Not-so-Great Northern Transmission line is not needed?

What does this mean?  The DOE is starting their scoping hearings for the federal environmental review next week:

1. Roseau, MN: Roseau Civic Center, 121 Center Street East, Roseau, MN, 56751; Wednesday. July 16, 2014, at 11:00 a.m.

2. Baudette, MN: Lake of the Woods School, 236 15th Ave. SW., Baudette, MN, 56623; Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at 6:00 p.m.

3. Littlefork, MN: Littlefork Community Center, 220 Main Street, Littlefork, MN, 56653; Thursday, July 17, 2014, at 11:00 a.m.

4. International Falls, MN: AmericInn, 1500 Highway 71, International Falls, MN, 56649; Thursday, July 17, 2014, 6:00 p.m.

5. Kelliher, MN: Kelliher Public School, 345 4th Street NW., Kelliher, MN, 56650; Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at 11:00 a.m.

6. Bigfork, MN: Bigfork School, 100 Huskie Boulevard, Bigfork, MN, 56628; Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at 6:00 p.m.

7. Grand Rapids, MN: Sawmill Inn, 2301 South Hwy 169, Grand Rapids, MN, 55744; Thursday, July 24, 2014, at 11:00 a.m.

8. Grand Rapids, MN: Sawmill Inn, 2301 South Hwy 169, Grand Rapids, MN, 55744; Thursday, July 24, 2014, at 6:00 p.m.

More on this in the news:

NEB has final say over Hydro mega-projects

PUB had no choice in approving dam

Manitoba grants licence for Keeyask dam, puts Conawapa on hold

 

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Will Braun’s OpEd in the Winnipeg Free Press

ConawapaBefore ConawapaAfter ConawapaBefore

Conawapa Dam — who needs it?  Who wants it?  Again, it’s that difference between need, and public purpose, and what it is that the utilities want.  WANT.  DESIRE.  It’s anything but need.

A deal was struck so this damn dam would be built, but things have changed, and the Wuskwatim dam is losing money.  Now Conawapa, to throw good money after bad?  Why?  So Manitoba Hydro can make even more electricity to export for profit?  Minnesota Power too?  Will this business plan be any better?

Dam deal loses shine

First Nations gambled on bold talk of prosperity

Premier Greg Selinger once said Manitoba Hydro’s partnerships with First Nations “yield phenomenal social licence.”

Indeed, the fact five hydro-affected First Nations have joined Hydro in development of new dams has lent moral clout to the utility’s ambitious plans.

That moral high ground is eroding. Hydro’s “new era” of northern dealings is in trouble as it sits on the brink of committing to the $6.5-billion Keeyask project.

Phase one of the new era was the Wuskwatim Dam, which went into operation in 2012. Hydro offered Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation the option to purchase a 33 per cent share in the dam.

Hydro, government and NCN said the partnership held great promise for the future. In 2011, a band councillor said Wuskwatim would earn up to $40 million a year, a third of it going to NCN.

It hasn’t worked out that way. According to Hydro, NCN’s share of Wuskwatim’s losses will total $24 million for the past fiscal year and a combined $134 million over the first decade of the dam’s operation.

That’s worth another take. The community of 4,800 people, 80 kilometres west of Thompson, has invested $108.4 million — most of it borrowed from Hydro — in a venture that is predicted to lose the community $134 million over 10 years.

Welcome to the new era.

Hydro has said NCN will not actually have to pay the utility for its share of annual losses, as the original agreement would have required. Hydro will cover those losses for now, incorporating them into its long-term financial agreement with NCN, essentially borrowing from NCN’s future profits to pay for present losses.

One way or another, NCN is stuck with the losses.

Hydro is also stuck with its share of losses, but that’s different. It simply passes them on to ratepayers. But NCN doesn’t have the option of raising anyone’s rates because its revenue stream is based on export prices, not domestic rates.

To be fair, NCN’s benefits from Wuskwatim also included a $5.7-million adverse-effects settlement as well as training and employment opportunities. Hydro and governments spent $60 million on a training program centred at NCN. About one-third of person-hours of employment during the construction of the dam went to NCN members. Less impressive were the turnover rate of 41 per cent and the average duration of employment: eight months.

That was the construction boom. At last report, only four NCN members work at long-term jobs at the dam.

Now four other First Nations — Tataskweyak, York Factory, Fox Lake and War Lake — are lined up for similar “new era” agreements on the proposed $6.5-billion Keeyask dam. They can purchase a combined stake of up to 25 per cent in the dam if they come up with about $375 million.

The “Keeyask Cree Nations” negotiated another option that would amount to a roughly two per cent stake in the dam, with a guaranteed minimum annual payment whether or not the dam makes money. Of course, the payments to the communities would be far less than the windfall once touted under the 25 per cent share.

The current assumption is the KCNs will choose this “preferred” option, providing the First Nations a combined $5 million annually in the early years of the dam.

These communities agreed to the dams based in part on the bold talk of hefty profits and a prosperous future. But the deals were negotiated before the recession and the spike in shale-gas production sank the export market, which is key to the profitability of the dams.

How would they vote today?

What happens if they toss their partnership agreements in the murky old-era waters of the Nelson River, either now or in a decade? Legally they can’t, but morally who could fault future generations for defying this form of partnership?

Hydro’s First Nations partners used to defend the new dams vehemently.

No one talks that way anymore. KCN leaders are contractually required to speak in favour of the dams, but the vigour is largely gone. And the behind-the-scenes grumbling is leaking out.

That’s not what Hydro and Selinger want to hear after paying northern First Nations $241 million for negotiation costs since 1999.

Selinger said last year Hydro’s “legacy of bitterness” in the north has been replaced by a spirit of partnership. Sadly, the new era of dams may exacerbate the bitterness rather than heal it.

Add that social risk to the massive financial risk of Keeyask, and Manitobans should ask whether Hydro has general societal approval to proceed with the dam.

By July, when Hydro wants to start building Keeyask, our utility is likely to have an Environment Act licence and a Water Power Act licence for the megaproject. But will it have a legitimate social licence?

 Will Braun works for the Interchurch Council on Hydropower.

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