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Manitoba's hydro power has states looking north to meet energy needs

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
In the early 1960s, the first electricity transmission connection between Manitoba and North Dakota was completed.
It is a cross-border energy partnership still going and growing 50 years later, and for some in the upper Midwest, the abundant supply of hydroelectric power being produced in Manitoba is more attractive than ever.
With new renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to meet and greenhouse gas emissions to reduce, states and utilities are searching for low-cost, low-carbon alternatives. They have a willing supplier for some of that electricity to the north.
Manitoba Hydro, which already supplies Minnesota with 10 percent of its electricity needs, has recently signed new power purchase agreements with utilities in that state.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, lawmakers recently passed a bill that will expand the market for the province-owned utility’s excess hydro power. SB 81 redefines “renewable resource” under Wisconsin’s RPS. The original statute had allowed only small hydroelectric facilities (less than 60 megawatts) to count toward the RPS. SB 81 now makes new large hydro facilities, as well as those in Manitoba, a permissible “renewable resource.”
Under Minnesota law, hydro facilities producing more than 100 megawatts of electricity do not count toward the RPS. As a result, only energy from Manitoba Hydro’s smaller dams qualifies.
Every state in the Midwest with a mandatory or voluntary RPS includes hydroelectric power as a renewable resource. However, there are often limits placed on the size or type of facility. These restrictions reflect concerns about the environmental impact of large-scale hydro projects as well as a desire to promote home-grown wind power.
Illinois, for example, requires that 75 percent of its renewable energy come from wind, while Ohio mandates that half of the renewable energy come from in-state generation. Opponents of Wisconsin’s SB 81 have derided it as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.”
But in the upper Midwest, wind and hydro power can work hand-in-hand to deliver low-carbon electricity to consumers, David Cormie of Manitoba Hydro said in October at a session of The Council of State Governments’ National Conference & North American Summit.
He noted, for example, that hydro plants have the capacity to store large amounts of energy.
“When the wind blows, you store the water,” Cormie said, “and when the wind isn’t blowing, the hydro plant turns its generators back on.”
Likewise, he said, the construction of new cross-border transmission lines is needed to get more wind and hydro power on the grid.
“Manitoba Hydro’s surplus can’t compete with the wind resources of North Dakota,” he said, noting the province has a limited excess supply. “But together, we can build a regional transmission system that maximizes the benefits of both.”