A bill that passed the Wisconsin Senate this week and is on track to be voted on by the Assembly will allow hydropower from megadams in Canada to count toward utilities’ renewable energy requirements. This proposed language would alter state law as a sweetheart deal for one utility: Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), of Green Bay.
WPS will purchase more than 500MW of energy from Manitoba Hydro, a deal worth over $2 billion. WPS wants this power to count as their renewable energy requirement but is hindered by one small roadblock: current law explicitly exclude Manitoba megadams from being considered renewable. Current language acknowledges the cultural and environmental devastation these dams brought to the Churchill River system and the Northern Cree tribes that subsisted on it.
But these are not existing dams sitting around waiting for a customer. Exports of power to Wisconsin and Minnesota has been the justification to build three brand new megadams. The proposed dam construction will continue to create massive reservoirs, flood forests, release methane into the atmosphere and increase mercury into the water, fish and animals. Getting the power from Canada to Wisconsin will also require more high powered transmission lines (of the controversial Arrowhead-Weston type) a detail that has been conveniently omitted from the PR for cheap energy put out by WPS and the sponsors of this bill in the Wisconsin Legislature.
This bill is bad news for rivers and for the renewable energy industry in Wisconsin. This proposed change first appeared as part of last year’s package of clean energy initiatives, but that version was accompanied by an increase in the percent renewable energy to be required of utilities. (River Alliance was on record as opposing it even last year.)
This time around, the higher renewable energy standards have been droppd. Without them, the cheap Canadian hydropower will flood Wisconsin within the next decade and completely remove any incentive to develop in-state renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources. (Oh, that’s right – they’re making wind energy harder to produce too.)
Call it cheap. Call it politically expedient. Just don’t call this renewable energy. That would be a dam lie.