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Monday, April 19, 2010

Hydro Hijinks

Rat has watched with interest the unfolding, and what now may be the unraveling, of “Clean Energy Jobs Act” (CEJA), a coal pile of policy proposals to get us away from burning hydrocarbons and move us to “renewable” energy. It has been in circulation for months in the Wisconsin Legislature, and was a product of a task force convened by Governor Jim Doyle to look at global warming.

It was always questionable how much the bill had to do with jobs, and now it’s even questionable how much it has to do with clean energy.

Unless, that is, you call hydropower – power generated by dams – clean. It certainly is renewable because the rivers always run, but river rats have always been suspect of hydro because of the damage it does to rivers. (And, in developing countries, the damage it does to people who get displaced by the flooding for the reservoirs.)

It’s very unlikely we’ll see any new hydro dams in Wisconsin (all the good spots are already taken), so if you want hydropower in this state, you get it from Manitoba, where they still build big dams on pristine rivers.

Hydropower was deemed “renewable” by the Global Warming Task Force and therefore deemed so in the legislation. That put it on par with wind and solar and biofuels and other things – all energy that can be produced in Wisconsin. But a little rat informed us about how power companies operating in Wisconsin were trying to wire the legislation to have all the power they could buy from Manitoba Hydro (a Canadian “crown” corporation) get counted as “renewable.” One analysis showed that the 5 biggest utilities in Wisconsin could get all their required renewable energy (the bill called for 25% from renewable sources by the year 2025) simply by connecting their wires to Manitoba hydro.

That would have undercut a fundamental premise of the CEJA legislation – encouraging the development of renewable energy generated in Wisconsin. Not to mention the new dam construction it might have triggered in Manitoba.

The bill was amended last week, and things appear to have gotten worse. The only tiny barrier to Manitoba Hydro providing ALL “renewable” energy in Wisconsin is some paperwork shuffled between Manitoba and Wisconsin “regarding the final licensure of two existing hydroelectric projects in Manitoba” (emphasis ours). (The quote is from the Wisconsin Legislative Council’s overview of changes to the bill.) That’s a pretty low threshold: native Canadians have fought with the utility over the decades, but there’s little history of Manitoba Hydro not getting its way, especially for dams already built.

CEJA has been compromised in other ways, and conservation groups are acting like it’s the drunk uncle at the party – entertaining at first, embarrassing as time went on. We’ll know its fate in a few days’ time.


  1. Apparently, Wisconsin isn't the only state where this is happening. Sources say the Canadian govt has been heavily lobbying Obama to stretch the definition of renewable to include mega-hydroprojects. Vermont and New York are both targeted, with Vermont looking the most likely to cave...A sunday opinion piece in the Burlinton Free Press does a good job of calling it out:

  2. Thanks to River Rat for giving us the "down low" about the clean energy jobs bill in the WI legislature. Our MN friends at Fresh Energy have been fighting this Manitoba Hydro atrocity for years thru the work of Ken Bradley and others with the Just Energy program at Fresh Energy. The Save Our Unique Lands groups fought to stop the monster Arrowhead-Westin high voltage electric transmission line across northern WI which will carry this Manitoba Hydro power. Unfortunately the National Park Service made a bad, bad deal for $2 million-plus to allow the line over the Namekagon River. Thanks for exposing this bogus arrangement in the legislation equating Manitoba Hydro with clean energy/renewables. River Rat, you be the MAN!!!