Monthly Archives: April 2014

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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Filed under Canada permitting, Media, Need

Odd MISO filings at FERC


Today I received notice of some sort of odd filings at FERC by MISO… oh, not that type, THIS type, the Midcontinent Independent Service Operator, f/k/a Midwest Independent Transmission Service Operator, type:


Here is what they’ve filed:

2014-04-21 Docket No. ER14-1748-000_1 of 2

2014-04-21 Docket No. ER14-1749-000_2 of 2

First, these were both “initial” filings, with docket number blank, and it’s Part 1 of 2 and Part 2 of 2, so I think that the docket numbers may be combined, one or the other eliminated, soon.

What they’re doing is eliminating a trust provision in a Coordinated Agreement between MISO and Manitoba Hydro which contained a trust, and that part of the agreement is being eliminated because JP Morgan has pulled out of being the trustee and they can’t find another trustee.  ???

What’s that about?  I’m presuming there’s a backstory here.  Ideas, anyone?


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Filed under MISO, Need

And on MPR yesterday…

High-Voltage-Warning-Sign-S-2217Got a call from Dan Kraker at MPR up in Duluth yesterday, he’d found this blog, not surprising if you google “Great Northern Transmission Line,” because guess what pops up!??!  I wish I’d been clearer about this being just a small part of the MISO Northern Area Study Final Report larger plan (see map, p. 5):


Here’s the MPR piece:

Minnesota Power seeks permit for new power line; skeptics question need

Duluth-based Minnesota Power has filed permit applications with state and federal regulators to build a new transmission line from Canada to the Iron Range.

The Great Northern Transmission Line would carry at least 750 megawatts of electricity into the U.S. beginning in 2020. Minnesota Power plans to import 250 megawatts of hydropower generated from dams in northern Manitoba. The utility says it will help power new mining operations and continue its diversification away from coal.

But Carol Overland, an attorney who represents a group of landowners in northern Minnesota with concerns about the project, says it’s not needed.

“What it does is give you this gigantic line, to nowhere,” Overland said. “Why are we building this, what would be the cost to Minnesota ratepayers?”

The Minnesota Public Utilities commission is scheduled to decide on the project’s certificate of need and routing applications in 2015.



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Filed under Media, PUC Filings, Uncategorized

MP’s routing application is filed

RoutePermitCoverYes, here it is, it’s been filed, and it’s massive, so it’ll take a while to download and post — apologies for not doing it yesterday, but it was tax day after all, something that for those of us self-employed folks is a royal pain, or should I say a royal payin’ perhaps!  So today, getting this application posted is the task.

To check it out, go to the PUC’s “Search eDockets” page, and go to the listings for Docket “14-21” — it’s easy, at the red link above, click there, and where it says “Docket Number” at the box that says “SELECT” put in “14” and then on the box to the right of that, put in “21” and hit “SEARCH” just above and it’ll appear on your screen.

OK, it’s tea time, and then I’ll download and then upload over a cup of Earl Grey — a BIG cup!

Here’s the scoop – about 1/3 of the filings are too large to upload, so I’m cutting and pasting from their site.  If you’re interested in this, download it, because those links could change, and in time, they could be “disappeared,” which I’ve seen often over the years.  So download, and if you’re wanting a hard copy or CD of the application, call them or email and request it!

The “Presidential Permit” is the one I’m most interested in, and I’ll look into how that works and put up a post on it soon.  They’re not all downloading, maybe they’re just putting it up now.  So, don’t be surprised if some of those links don’t work.  Here ya’ go:

Route Permit Application

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Filed under PUC Filings, Routing Docket

Open houses beginning in Canada for GNTL

As reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, a series of open houses has begun this week, TODAY, and continue through the first week of May in Canada regarding the Canadian part of the “Great Northern Transmission Line.”

Hydro hosts open houses on U.S. transmission line


Manitoba Hydro wants public feedback as it puts the final touches on its proposed transmission line to the United States.

The line is to run from Rosser ( north-west of Winnipeg south to the Minnesota border where it will hook up with a second line to Duluth.

Under a proposal now being studied by the Public Utilities Board, Manitoba Hydro will own 49 per cent of the U.S. side of the 500 KV transmission line, with Minnesota Power owning the rest.

The PUB has heard that Hydro’s stake in the line was needed so that it would be upgraded, at Hydro’s request, from the originally-proposed 230 kilovolts to 500. The larger line ( would allow Hydro to ship more power into the Wisconsin market and import more power to Manitoba from U.S. utilities when needed.

Hydro says it also wants input from First Nations, the Manitoba Metis Federation, local municipalities, government departments, local landowners and the public during the final route selection and environmental assessment process.

Open houses will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Ste. Anne — Tuesday, April 15, Seine River Banquet Centre, 80A Arena Road.
Richer — Wednesday, April 16, Richer Young at Heart Community Club, Dawson Road at Highway 302.
Vita — Tuesday, April 22, Vita Community Hall, 209 Main Street North.
Piney — Wednesday, April 23, Piney Community Centre, Highway No. 89 (Main Street).
La Broquerie — Thursday, April 24, La Broquerie Arena, 35 Normandeau Bay.
Marchand — Wednesday, April 30, Marchand Community Club, Dobson Avenue.
Dugald — Tuesday, April 29, Dugald Community Club, 554 Holland Street.
Lorette –Tuesday, May 6, Lorette Community Complex ,1420 Dawson Road.
Headingley — Wednesday, May 7, Headingley Community Centre, 5353 Portage Avenue.
Winnipeg –Thursday, May 8, Holiday Inn Winnipeg South, 1330 Pembina Highway.

Hydro has also posted an online survey ( on its website for the project.



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Filed under Canada permitting, Hearings, Meetings

MP to file GNTL Routing Application TODAY!


A little birdie told me that Minnesota Power will be filing the Great Northern Transmission Line routing application and the DOE Presidential Permit Application sometime today.  TODAY!

Heads up!

Duck and Cover!

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Filed under Routing Docket

MP serves responses to Commerce Info Requests

Moving along little by little, Commerce has sent in Information Requests and Minnesota Power is answering them:

DoC IR 1



20121102 Northern Area Study Presentation

20121105 MH Wind Synergy Study TRG Presentation_Updated

More to follow as they send them.

And an update, here are those that we’d filed, and the MP responses:
















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Filed under Information Requests