Hydroelectric

Dams for Dilbit: How Canada’s New Hydro Dams Will Power Oil Pipelines

Dams for Dilbit: How Canada’s New Hydro Dams Will Power Oil Pipelines

The cancellation of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline in early October had major consequences for a rather unexpected player: Manitoba Hydro.

The company had been counting on the energy demand from the pipeline, and now the cancellation is putting extra strain on a company already plagued by debt and in the middle of building an $8.7 billion dam.

Back in 2014, the provincial utility company anticipated that almost 40 per cent of electricity generated by its proposed 695-megawatt Keeyask dam in northern Manitoba would be allocated to “pipeline load” for the Alberta Clipper, Line 3 and Energy East pipelines.

Specifically, the electricity would be used to run pumping stations, which force crude oil through pipelines via a series of pumps and motors. Among those pumping stations were those that would move bitumen from the oilsands to New Brunswick through the Energy East pipeline.

But Energy East is now officially dead.

What’s the Future of Hydroelectric Power in Canada?

Emosson Reservoir in Switzerland. Photo: Martin Funk

After weeks of delay, the B.C. NDP has finally been asked to form government, thanks to a co-operation agreement with the Green Party.

A key component of that now-famous NDP-Green “confidence and supply agreement” signed in late May is its commitment to “immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission.”

While premier-delegate John Horgan hasn’t confirmed whether he will cancel the $9-billion project — it will take around six weeks for the utility commission to actually provide a preliminary report — previous statements suggest he’s certainly sympathetic to the idea.

Conflicts over hydroelectric dams aren’t confined to British Columbia: think of Labrador’s Muskrat Falls or Manitoba’s Keeyask dam. In fact, alongside oil and gas extraction projects, hydroelectric dams arguably serve as some of the most contentious projects in Canada, largely due to detrimental impacts on Indigenous lands, territories and resources and skyrocketing costs.

But hydroelectric projects are also projected to serve as fundamental components in Canada’s transition away from fossil fuels. It’s a tension that only grows by the day.

DeSmog Canada took a deep dive into some of the politics of hydro.

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