Manitoba Hydro released details of its preferred route for the controversial Bipole III high-voltage transmission line on the west side of the province.

The proposed line would begin just northeast of the town of Gillam, at Keewatinoow Converter Station, and run southwest past Thompson before turning directly south at The Pas.

'We believe that we have selected the route with the least impact on the environment and on the communities and residents along the proposed path of the transmission line.' —Manitoba Hydro CEO Bob Brennan

It will continue down the west side of the province, near the Saskatchewan border.

Just north of Duck Mountain Provincial Park, the line will angle southeast towards Portage la Prairie. It loops south of that city before turning east and completing the route just east of Winnipeg at the Riel Converter Station in the Rural Municipality of Springfield.

The line will run 1,400 kilometres and will cost $2 billion to build.

"We believe that we have selected the route with the least impact on the environment and on the communities and residents along the proposed path of the transmission line," said Manitoba Hydro president and CEO Bob Brennan.

"We will again be seeking public input into this preliminary preferred route over the next several months before a final route is submitted as part of our environmental impact statement (EIS) for regulatory approval."

Both the Keewatinoow and Riel converter stations are proposed new facilities that will be built if the Bipole III route is approved.

The 5,000-volt transmission line would be installed along a right-of-way that is 66 metres wide and will come into service in 2017.

The project is required to improve system reliability, to decrease dependency on the existing converter facilities and provide additional opportunity for power exports, said Brennan.

East side route rejected

Hydro has been looking at three potential routes along the west side of the province after a shorter route along the east side of Lake Winnipeg was rejected.

The NDP government in 2007 overruled Hydro's original plan to run the line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

A major factor was the protection of a proposed UNESCO World Heritage site in that area.

The site, which the province is still seeking to have declared, contains 40,000 square kilometres of vast boreal forest, rivers, lakes and wetlands spread across the Canadian shield and straddling the Manitoba-Ontario border.

Critics, including the Opposition Conservatives, have said Manitoba Hydro's decision to build the line down the west side of the province's big lakes will cost at least $1 billion more because that route is 50 per cent longer than the eastern route.

In coming up with the three possible western routes, Hydro evaluated at a total of 83 alternatives, rating and comparing them using 28 criteria, including:

  • Socio-economic concerns.
  • Agriculture.
  • Caribou and other wildlife.
  • Habitat and fragmentation.
  • Vegetation.
  • Technical feasibility.
  • Aboriginal traditional knowledge.
  • Stakeholder group considerations.
  • Public input.
  • Land use patterns and recreation.

The preferred route being presented has the advantage of having the least impact on agricultural land among the three alternatives by avoiding diagonal cuts across properties.

"It takes out … 37 acres of agricultural land. In that whole route, we thought that was excellent — 37 acres is not very much in building a line this size," said Brennan.

In addition, the route avoids National and Provincial Parks, and First Nation reserve lands.

The Manitoba branch of the Wilderness Committee is pleased with the proposed route.

Spokesman Eric Reder said it cuts through mostly cleared land, where the impact on the environment should be minimal.

Consultations set for September

In September, Manitoba Hydro will begin a series of meetings with municipalities and aboriginal groups and stakeholders. The utility will also host a number of public open houses to present information concerning the preferred route and to obtain public feedback.

In addition, a series of "information centres" will be set up for landowners whose property may be affected by the project. The information centres will provide an opportunity for landowners to discuss the project with Hydro staff and obtain more details.

President and CEO Bob Brennan said Manitoba Hydro won't expropriate any land but will offer fair market value to, in effect, "lease" land for the massive power line.

"Manitoba Hydro will provide a fair and equitable compensation package for landowners affected by the preferred right-of-way," stated a release from the utility.

Hydro has also developed a Community Development Initiative (CDI) to provide an annual payment to communities in the vicinity of the Bipole III facilities.

The expected value of the CDI is estimated at $5 million per year over 10 years.

Further information about the CDI will be available during the consultations, Hydro said in a press release.