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December 2013

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Manitoba Gets Energy Makeover

The provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are known for their mineral-rich economies. Now Manitoba, their neighbor on the Canadian prairie, is looking to join them by tapping more fully into its own natural resources to boost economic growth and energy independence.

"Alberta has the oil and Saskatchewan has the potash," says Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 Business Manager Russell Shewchuk. "Manitoba now has the massive potential to become an energy giant."

In the largest capital investment in the utility's history, Manitoba Hydro has launched a long-term plan to invest nearly $20 billion in new generation and transmission upgrades to the province's electrical system, including the construction of three hydro-dam projects and two main converter stations.

The goal of provincial leaders and utility officials is not to just keep the province supplied with clean hydro power, but to make Manitoba a major energy exporter throughout North America.

New Democratic Party Hydro Minister Dave Chomiak says the utility is anticipating $29 billion in energy export sales over the next 30 years — contributing to profits which will help pay for the upgrades and new developments.

"Hydro is Manitoba's oil," he said in a statement. "We are building Hydro now to ensure we can provide clean, affordable and renewable energy for not only Manitobans but also for our neighbors in the rest of Canada and the United States."

Export sales commitments have already been inked with Minnesota and Wisconsin energy officials.

And that means work.

"The Manitoba Hydro projects will literally create thousands of jobs," says Local 2085's Shewchuk. "We will see millions of man-hours throughout its construction and maintenance. All Manitobans, especially those located in the north, will be granted the opportunity to contribute to the growth of their respective communities."

With the majority of the work being done in northern Manitoba, these projects also mean needed jobs for First Nations communities, which too often have been left out of the province's economic growth. Aboriginal people in Manitoba have an unemployment rate four times the non-aboriginal rate.

Since 2000, the number of Aboriginal employees at Manitoba Hydro has more than doubled. Local 2034 — which represents utility workers at Manitoba Hydro — has 800 Aboriginal members.

The first portion of the project — the Wuskwatim dam — was completed six months ago. The 200-megawatt, run-of-river hydroelectric generating station located in Northern Manitoba put more than 160 Local 2085 members on the job for a four-year period. It is the first northern hydro dam to be built in Manitoba in 20 years.

Construction of the second dam — Keeyask Generating Station located 965 kilometers north of Winnipeg — began earlier this year and is expected at its height to employ more than 250 IBEW wiremen. It will produce 695 megawatts of clean, renewable energy.

The northern converter station will employ more than 150 members.

A third station, the Conawapa Generating Station is also planned, which will be the largest in Manitoba history.

Manitoba Hydro's new investments are also about bringing the province's expansive electrical infrastructure into the 21st century.

Much of Manitoba's electrical distribution system dates from the 1940s and '50s and badly needs upgrading. For example, more than 120,000 electrical poles are rotten and need replacing, says Winnipeg Local 2034 Business Manager Mike Velie. More than 20 aged substations also need refurbishment, at an expected cost of more than $630 million.

"This will ensure employment for IBEW members for at least the next decade and in the years to come," Velie says.


The Wuskwatim dam in northern Manitoba was the first hydroelectric project completed as part of Manitoba Hydro's $20 billion investment plan.