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Trim Hydro plans: ex-minister

A former NDP cabinet minister in charge of Manitoba Hydro has called on the Crown utility and his NDP colleagues to put the brakes on the $6.2-billion Keeyask generating station.

Former energy minister Tim Sale said the province should focus more on expanding its wind-power generation and encourage more rural Manitobans to switch from electric heat to geothermal to save electricity.

“What has to happen is we need to take a deep breath and look out to the horizon and get beyond looking at the next big dam,” said Sale, an NDP MLA from 1995 to 2007.

“The horizon to me is incredibly uncertain. Why would we want to bet the farm?”

Sale said new extraction methods for shale gas and shale oil will provide a ready supply of fuel to fire thermal power production plants in the United States for the foreseeable future.

That, coupled with the spectre of rising interest rates, makes building Keeyask a risk, he said.

The Selinger government could offset that by erecting more windmills, not only producing enough reliable power to meet the province’s growing needs, but even selling it at night when we don’t need it.

“It doesn’t take much in the way of an interest rate increase to dramatically change the dynamics of a big capital project,” Sale said.

He said the province’s goal of producing 1,000 megawatts through wind – 10 per cent of the province’s total power generation, which Sale himself announced in 2004 – has stalled with no new wind farms on the map.

He said a 2010 study by TransGrid Solutions for Manitoba Hydro said 1,200 megawatts of wind power could be introduced to the province’s grid for a capital cost of about $200 million.

“We have the ability to move quickly on this or move in a very deliberate, staged way,” he said, adding the end of a federal tax credit in the U.S. for wind-generation projects – which expires at the end of this year unless Congress extends it – will make acquiring wind equipment that much more affordable.

“It will be much better than saying, ‘We’re going to build Keeyask and it’s going to take us seven years and we hope that everything will go well.’ ”

A wind farm in St. Leon opened in 2005 and recently was expanded to 73 turbines, producing 120 megawatts of power. To the east, a St. Joseph wind farm opened in 2011. Its 60 turbines produce 138 megawatts.

Hydro spokesman Glenn Schnieder said while the wind farms help produce electricity for Hydro, wind power will never be enough for export.

“It’s not the same product,” he said of wind when compared to a hydroelectric power. “It has a lot less value than a hydro resource, which is what we call ‘dispatchable,’ which you can count on to a large extent all the time. If you don’t know when the wind’s blowing, you can’t in advance arrange to sell it or integrate into your network in such a way that you’re maximizing the value of it.”