Manitoba makes hydro power deal with U.S. utility

Manitoba Hydro has signed two major power deals with a Wisconsin utility for up to 15 years.

Critics warn crown corporation's plans put ratepayers at risk

Manitoba Hydro has signed two major power deals with a Wisconsin utility for up to 15 years. CBC's Ryan Hicks reports. 2:17

Manitoba Hydro has signed two major power deals with a Wisconsin utility for up to 15 years.

"This is a historic deal for our province and for Manitoba Hydro that will create thousands of good jobs and power our economic growth for decades," Premier Greg Selinger announced Friday from Toronto, where he is taking part in the Energy Innovation Summit.

"This is a final deal," he said. "[U.S.officials] obviously have regulatory requirements that they have to fulfill. But this is a firm sale into Wisconsin."

The first deal, which runs from 2016 to 2021, is for 108 megawatts of power. The second is for 308 megawatts for up to 10 years, beginning in 2027.

The deals, both with Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), make it necessary to build the proposed $10.2 billion Conawapa hydroelectric generating station on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba, stated a news release from Manitoba Hydro.

"Firm sales give very solid  justification for building hydro," Selinger said. "It allows us to keep the lowest rates in North America. It allows for thousands of good jobs to be created in Manitoba."

Manitoba Hydro CEO Scott Thomson said the deals give new life to projects that have been waiting in the wings.

"We've got a need in Manitoba to start rebuilding old infrastructure that's in our system," he said. 

No exact date is proposed for work to begin on the 1,485-megawatt Conawapa station, but the province's proposal calls for it to be operational by 2026.

The 308-megawatt deal also requires a new 500,000-volt Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line, currently in the planning stages, to be built, stated a press release from Manitoba Hydro.

A previously announced 100-megawatt sale to WPS is scheduled to run from 2021 to 2026, bridging the gap between the two newest deals, Hydro said.

The total value of Manitoba Hydro export contracts since 2010, including the latest deals, is more than $9 billion, Selinger said.

Deal puts Manitobans at risk: consumer advocates

But critics say the crown corporation is gambling on an uncertain future.

Winnipeg lawyer Byron Williams who is director of the Public Interest Law Centre and represents the Consumers Association of Canada, Manitoba branch, said the market that Manitoba Hydro plans to sell to has changed dramatically in the recent years due to shale gas and new wind power projects south of the border. 

"Those have put downwards pressure on hydro electric prices, " Williams said. 

Williams said Manitobans will bear the cost of paying for hydro projects that could fail to bring in the hoped for revenue. 

Aboriginal leaders also critical

David Muswaggon of Pimicikamak Cree Nation said First Nations do not necessarily welcome more Hydro development. 

"History is repeating again, and developing on our territory without our consent," he said. 

"We're not scientists, but we live there. We see it. We live it. We feel it. So what we're saying here is cêskwa pitamâ.  Wait."