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opinion

Will Tishinski is former vice-president of power supply planning (retired) for Manitoba Hydro.

It was recently reported that Ontario is looking to buy power from Newfoundland and Labrador. This is the wrong direction. Ontario should be looking westward to Manitoba, which is more accessible.

Manitoba currently receives 75 per cent of its electricity requirements from the Nelson River, which has an ultimate capacity of 6,000 megawatts. Only half of that potential is developed today. To meet its own needs, Manitoba will build the generating sites incrementally, with the last plant being constructed perhaps 50 years down the road. It makes more sense to develop the unharnessed 3,000 MW now and to share at least half that with Ontario. The entire block of power could be transmitted by direct-current transmission to a converter station near Dryden, Ont. At this location, the power could be converted to conventional alternating current, with 500,000-volt transmission lines connecting eastward to Timmins, Ont., and westward to Winnipeg.

Ontario is determined to proceed with the development of renewable energy, such as wind and solar. But each of these sources is available just 35 per cent of the time. Because of this limitation, backup generation is required. This backup can take the form of additional generation or energy storage, such as batteries. But gas-fired generation creates greenhouse gases, and batteries are still in the developmental stage, so neither option is satisfactory.

If Ontario were to acquire 1,500 MW of hydro power to replace natural-gas generation, it would substantially reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions, which could translate to substantial monetary benefits. If carbon credits are priced at $30 a tonne, the net present value of the environmental benefit for this block of clean hydro energy over a 50-year period would be worth $3-billion.

The benefits are also significant for Manitoba. Instead of selling into the U.S. market, which has a glut of cheap natural gas, it could be selling into a higher-priced market in Ontario. By advancing the development of the remaining plants on the Nelson River, Manitoba would benefit now, rather than having to wait 50 years. Manitoba could also address a controversial transmission project called Bipole III by rerouting that line through Ontario, bypassing sensitive environmental areas.

The transmission line route from Dryden to Timmins would provide a convenient power supply for Ontario's Ring of Fire chromite mining development. Power is always an integral part of any industrial development and this supply would improve the viability of this slow-developing project.

From Canada's standpoint, the line linking Winnipeg to Timmins would complete the connection of the trans-Canada grid. Furthermore, Canada gains by retaining clean hydro power in Canada, helping with its greenhouse-gas target reductions.

Although hydro plants and high-voltage lines are costly to construct, they are built to last. The development of Nelson River power is good for Ontario, good for Manitoba and good for Canada. The two provinces should direct their utilities to commence discussions on the most efficient utilization of clean hydro power.