Keeyask dam cost could reach $10.5 billion, report warns

An independent review of Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask hydroelectric dam warns the province could end up paying billions more for the generating station on the Nelson River.

Manitoba Hydro says the consultant's report points to worst-case scenario, not necessarily projected outcome

A report commissioned by the Public Utilities Board says the province could end up spending billions more than expected to build the Keeyask Generating Station. (Manitoba Hydro)

An independent review of Manitoba Hydro's capital expenditure program warns the Keeyask hydroelectric dam could cost the province billions more to complete than expected. It also blames the Crown corporation's lack of construction management experience and skills for failing to keep the multibillion-dollar project on track.

The report, written by Calgary consulting firm MGF Project Services, was commissioned by the Manitoba Public Utilities Board as part of the PUB hearings into Hydro's proposed rate increase. It found the Keeyask dam could cost as much as $10.5 billion due to the "contractor's poor productivity and increased indirect costs" associated with the project.

The 695-megawatt generating station — approximately 725 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the Nelson River — was originally estimated to cost $6.5 billion and expected to be in service by November 2019. In September 2016, Hydro raised its cost estimate to $7.8 billion.

Then in March, it went up to $8.7 billion. At the time, Hydro blamed rising expenses for foundation work for the additional increase.

The MGF report pointed to "the General Civil Contract (GCC) and its performance as the largest single contributor to planned cost and schedule not being met."

"Manitoba Hydro staff are competent and professional, but they are not a construction manager with the experience and skills to direct the GCC. As such, its project management and control effectiveness is low," said the report.

In September, the Crown corporation said it needs to charge consumers more for electricity to offset increasing costs associated with the Keeyask dam and Bipole III transmission line.

Hydro wants to charge 7.9 per cent more per year until 2023-24, and raise rates an additional 4.54 per cent the following year. If allowed, that would mean a $1,000 Hydro bill would reach almost $1,600 in 2023-24, and it would hit $1,650 the following year.

"When Manitoba Hydro embarked upon these projects, it had a duty to Manitoba consumers to manage those projects with appropriate diligence and care," said Winnipeg lawyer Byron Williams, director of the Public Interest Law Centre representing the Consumers Association of Canada, Manitoba branch — which opposes the proposed rate increase. 

"Manitoba Hydro made a commitment to Manitobans in 2014 that they would deal with rate pressures and adverse developments in a smooth way, in a way that did not impose rate shock upon Manitoba consumers. We expect them to live up to that." 

Williams said while the report is not good, it doesn't justify gouging consumers.

"If you look at the big picture, interest rates are lower, some of Hydro's other projections for revenue are overly pessimistic ... it'll generally balance out," Williams said.

It's a 'worst-case scenario'

Hydro calls the reports findings a "a worst-case scenario" and not necessarily the projected outcome. 

"There's nothing that we can identify at this point in time to suggest that the project will be delayed and cost, well essentially, cost ratepayers more," said Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen.

Owen said in context, the report is mostly positive.

"It doesn't look good when you only read the Keeyask, but on every other project, the Bipole III, the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project, the converter stations for Bipole III, the report is not critical at all, it actually says we're doing a pretty good job."

The Keeyask Generating Station is slated to generate another 695 megawatts from the Nelson River, which already produces almost 4,000 megawatts. (Manitoba Hydro)

Most of the information in the report has been known for "quite some time," and Owen said the Crown corporation intends to finish the Keeyask dam within the $8.7 billion budget and in-service date of August 2021.

"Certainly we have said right from the beginning of this that there are risks inherent with a project of this size, given its location, given its remoteness, given the size of the project, they are all things that are going to impact it, weather included," he said.

As for some of the higher cost projections in the MGF report, Owen said Crown corporation isn't sure how they arrived at those numbers and Hydro plans to debate them before the PUB in the coming year.

About the Author

Caroline Barghout

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca

With files from Sean Kavanagh, Kelly Malone