How a large hydroelectric dam being proposed in northern Manitoba could affect the environment is being examined this week by the province's Clean Environment Commission.
The commission began six weeks of hearings on Monday into the Keeyask generating station, a $5.6-billion project spearheaded by a limited partnership between Manitoba Hydro and four northern First Nations.
As the hearings got underway, Manitoba Hydro says the Keeyask station is needed to meet people's future electricity needs.
"It also provides a significant benefit to local First Nations who are participating in the project," said Bill Henderson, a spokesperson for the public power utility.
"So the people who have been impacted most directly by the project have been intimately involved and have shared meaningfully in the process and participated very fully and will share in the ownership of the operation."
The Keeyask dam will generate another 695 megawatts of electricity from the Nelson River. If approved, it would be running by 2019, with construction slated to begin in June 2014.
Under the proposal, the four First Nations involved in the project — Tataskweyak, York Factory, Fox Lake and War Lake — would own 25 per cent of the dam, while Hydro owns the rest.
However, the project is not without its critics, like Mike Sutherland of the Peguis First Nation.
"Is it a dollar today or the environment tomorrow? You know, what is it worth? To us as First Nations, especially Peguis, there's no price on the environment," said Sutherland, a band councillor.
"It's everlasting and we need it for our children and the future of our people."
Sutherland is calling for a review of all current Manitoba Hydro projects.
The Consumers' Association of Canada says taxpayers have the right to know where their hydroelectricity is coming from
Gloria Desorcy, who heads up the association's Manitoba branch, said she would like to see consumers at the hearings "to ensure that whatever happens is protective of our environment, is in the best interest of communities living in that region, and the electricity we purchase is produced in a sustainable and socially responsible manner.
"This is a big decision for Manitoba," she said.
The commission's hearings into the Keeyask project will run through Dec. 5.