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Bipole III panel draws lively debate on ‘where to draw the line’
Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2011 9:50 AM
The Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics is revving things up again on campus with its series of panel discussions. To commence this year’s series, three panelists discussed the social and ethical considerations of Bipole III, the proposed new high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission project by Manitoba Hydo set to begin in late 2012.

The transmission line, which had originally been set to run on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, will now begin in northern Manitoba, run west of Winnipegosis and Lake Manitoba and end at a new converter station east of Winnipeg. The purpose of the line is to service the southern part of the province and export markets in the United States.

Panelists Jim Graham, U of M professor emeritus and an executive member of the Bipole III Coalition group, presented the group’s case for maintaining the original east-side plan.

The original plan was overruled by the provincial government due to environmental concerns raised by Aboriginal people living in the area.

John Ryan, the second panelist, a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg, brought to the table another plan for consideration, namely the possibility of burying the transmission line beneath Lake Winnipeg, a possibility that Ryan argued would both be more cost-effective and less damaging to the environment than either the abandoned east plan or the new west plan.

Lynne Fernandez, the third panelist and a political economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), spoke on behalf of the considerations for keeping the new west-side plan.

Graham, also a technical engineer, began his presentation with the engineer’s code of ethics, pointing out that, according to the code, the “well-being of the public” is always part of the engineer’s consideration. In 2006, he said, this broader conscience was further augmented by “an engineering obligation” to climate change and maintaining the environment. His Bipole III Coalition group is fighting to retain the original plan to run the line along the east side of Lake Winnipeg, citing reasons such as lower cost (though this claim has been disputed) of the east side line, as well as greater interference with farmlands and aerial crop spraying. The group also argues that the “pristine” Boreal environment which the new plan is said to protect is less pristine than claimed.

Fernandez argued that the sustainable development framework under consideration by Manitoba Hydro new plans, in moving the bipole line from the east to the west side, allowed for other, longer-term considerations than only economic ones, namely those of economic, social and environmental factors. The Boreal Forest environment in question, and being proposed to UNESCO for designation as a World Heritage Site, she said, had a “deep level of intactness.” Free from significant anthropogenic fragmentation, explained Fernandez, this forest is the “most southern intact boreal forest in the world,” and therefore important as a “haven for species being pushed north.” The region has also been recognized by the global scientific community as the largest primary intact forest left in the northern hemisphere, second to the Amazon rainforest, and as a global storehouse of carbon, which is critical to mitigating climate change.

Bipole III has become an election issue. In 2007, the NDP government, which overruled the original plan, cited as the major factor the protection of a proposed UNESCO World Heritage site in that area.

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