Manitoba

National Energy Board OK's Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project

The Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project has the OK from a national regulator.
The line would provide the final link in a chain that brings hydroelectricity from generating stations in northern Manitoba to sell in Minnesota. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

The Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project has the OK from a national regulator. 

The line would provide the final link in a chain that brings hydroelectricity from generating stations in northern Manitoba, through the Bipole III transmission line and across the U.S. border as part of a 308-megawatt deal with the Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service.

The National Energy Board (NEB), in a decision released Thursday, recommended that the federal government approve construction of the 213-kilometre line through southern Manitoba.

"It is the Board's view that, having regard to all considerations that appear to it to be directly related to the line and relevant, the Project is and will be required by the present and future public convenience and necessity," the board wrote in its decision.

Natural Resources Canada has three months to accept the recommendation.

This map shows the proposed route of the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project. (National Energy Board)

The line is already under construction on the American side of the border. All told, it's expected to cost roughly $453 million and increase the province's electricity export capacity to 3185 MW from 2300 MW.

Hydro made its initial application for the project in December 2016. At the time, the Crown corporation expected to have approval by the end of August 2017 and to begin construction on the line in December 2017, in order to have the line in operation by May or June 2020.

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said Thursday the utility is still working toward that goal, but completion is dependent on when it can secure licences.

Powell said Hydro is happy with the NEB's recommendation.

That's a real positive step forward and we're pleased about that.- Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell

"That's a real positive step forward and we're pleased about that."

Approval subject to 28 conditions

In July, Ottawa officials accepted a board recommendation that the project go through the certificate process, meaning additional public hearings.

Hearings on the project wrapped up in June with cross examinations and final arguments from Manitoba Hydro and intervenor groups. The board heard from 17 intervenors and two letter-of-comment writers.

The approval is subject to 28 conditions related to consultation with Indigenous people, the environment, engineering standards and safety.

Before construction can begin, Manitoba Hydro needs to meet those conditions and secure the federal certificate — which may come with additional conditions — as well as a provincial licence and permits.

Roughly 31 per cent of electricity generated in Manitoba is sold out-of-province, with the majority of it being exported to the United States, the board noted in its decision. Revenue from the project is expected to help lower the cost of electricity in the province, the board wrote, and its construction will enhance grid reliability for residents.

Group disappointed with decision

The board's conditions include a requirement for Hydro to file a plan to create a Landowner Advisory Committee, including a summary of how potentially-affected landowners and their representative organizations were consulted, as well as a summary of the consultations.

The project has been subject to criticism by property owners in southern Manitoba who protested the proposed route.

Kevin Toyne, lawyer for the Southeast Landowners Coalition, a group of landowners opposing the project, said he's not happy with the NEB's decision, which he characterized as prioritizing American interests over Manitobans.

Really disappointed that the National Energy Board concluded that a project that will require hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize Minnesota's climate change plan as being in the public interest of Canada.- Kevin Toyne, lawyer for the Southeast Landowners Coalition

"Really disappointed that the National Energy Board concluded that a project that will require hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize Minnesota's climate change plan as being in the public interest of Canada," Toyne said. "It's a real head scratcher."

The group still has opportunities to protest the project, he said. The coalition will try to persuade the provincial and federal governments not to give Hydro permission to go ahead.

In March, the coalition sought and lost a bid to have the board's hearings adjourned after controversy over a deal between Manitoba Hydro and the Manitoba Métis Federation that would have seen the utility pay the federation nearly $70 million over 50 years.

In March, the provincial Progressive Conservatives said they wouldn't sign off on the deal, prompting the federation to take legal action against the province.

In June, the federation asked the board to consider the dispute. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the board said it couldn't comment on the matter.

"Those matters are between the province and the federation and are being dealt with with the courts, so that's all we can say about that one," Robert Steedman said.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Métis Federation said the federation will comment on the matter on Friday.

With files from Cameron MacLean, Jonathan Ventura and Aidan Geary