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THE KEEYASK PROJECT - MANITOBA HYDRO & 4 FIRST NATIONS PARTNERSHIP AIMS FOR BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICES
By Suzanne Forcese
Located approximately 750 km north of Winnipeg on the Lower Nelson River, Keeyask includes 3 separate projects: the Keeyask Infrastructure Project, the Keeyask Generation Project and the Keeyask Transmission Project. The Keeyask Generation Project (The Project) is a collaborative between Manitoba Hydro and 4 Manitoba First Nations: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, York Factory First Nation, and Fox Lake Cree Nation. Working together, the Partners are known collectively as the Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership (KHLP).
WaterToday spoke with Scott Powell, Director of Corporate Communications who is "proud to work for a company that produces the most renewable sustainable system and is a world leader with the largest generating station. Upon the targeted completion date which was originally scheduled for 2022, the generating station will produce approximately 695 megawatts of capacity and an average 4,400 gigawatt hours of electricity a year."
Construction of the Keeyask Project includes a 7-unit powerhouse/service bay complex on the north side of Gull Rapids, 7 bay spillway on the south side of Gull Rapids, more than 2 km of dams across Gull Rapids, 23 km of dykes built on the north and south side of the reservoir.
The project is actually ahead of schedule. "I am very pleased with the spooling up to the major work now with the first generator looking like it will be in service in the fall of 2020 and completion now set for 2021." The spillway structure is complete and operating. The south access road is complete with the equivalent of 18,000 truckloads of earth fill; Units 1, 2, & 3 embedded turbine generator components are completed; the amount of concrete poured would be equal to a sidewalk more than 1200 km long; and powerhouse units 4 & 5 are complete. Progress has not compromised safety, quality, the environment or partner community participation.
Since 2001 Manitoba Hydro has worked with local Cree Nations to collect information that contributed to the project's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with a focus on minimizing effects on specific environmental parameters and specific actions that must be taken during construction. Both technical science monitoring and Aboriginal traditional knowledge monitoring were implemented.
Manitoba Hydro has remained sensitive to the community. Diverting the Nelson River "was significant to our partners". To respect the Cree worldview, ceremonies were held acknowledging the changes to the water and land asking for forgiveness and healing.
Powell is also pleased with the benefits of the joint venture between Manitoba Hydro and the First Nations communities. "Our most recently completed generating station in 2016, the Wuskwatim was a 211 megawatt project with 25% Indigenous ownership. "Keeyask will provide up to 33% ownership to the First Nations communities."
In the past Manitoba Hydro's reputation for its environmental practices has been less than satisfactory. "We are not the Manitoba Hydro of the 1960's and 1970's. We were criticized for contributing to flooding in Manitoba. But new hydropower facilities have been designed to reduce flooding. Wuskwatim created less than 1/5 of a square mile of flooding and that was contained within the immediate forebay area."
Manitoba Hydro is setting out to be a leader in other environmental practices as well. "We have a non-carbon emitting resource system. It is the most sustainable power system in the world with 99% of electric energy coming from renewing sources." That allows Manitoba users to have the second lowest power bill in Canada and Canada's lowest power bill for business and industry.
Fully recognizing that the economy and the environment are mutually dependent another highlight of the environmental respect that Manitoba Hydro is engaged in is the fish salvage with a huge improvement in reducing biophysical impacts compared to earlier approaches. Also recognizing the impacts of earlier projects Manitoba Hydro has allocated over $1 billion to mitigate and compensate for all project related impacts to the environment.
All new projects incorporate fish protection and impact mitigation. New facility designs include fish-friendly turbines, ensuring minimal impact to fish stocks. To compensate for any affected habitats, project development must, according to federal regulation, replace habitats or take other measures to maintain the sustainability of fish populations.
One billion litres of water were pumped out of the tailrace cofferdam leaving thousands of fish stranded in small pools. A fish salvage team worked tirelessly with nets, walking buckets of rescued fish, suckers and minnows to the Nelson River on the other side of the cofferdam -saving over 20,000 fish representing 19 species.
The Grand Rapids Fish Hatchery is home to the lake sturgeon eggs that are collected every spring from the Nelson River to be hatched and raised to the point where their survival in the wild will be ensured before they are stocked back out.
Don MacDonald, Regional Fisheries Manager at Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship noted, "we have been monitoring stocks here since the early 1990's and we have seen a decline but more recently we've watched stocks improve in just 20 years of working together." Reg Waterman of the Grand Rapids Fish Hatchery commented on the success of this project. " We saw an 86% survival rate this year - the highest ever."
Marilynne Kullman, Environmental Licensing and Protection, Manitoba Hydro stated that "One of Manitoba Hydro's corporate goals is to be an environmental leader. Manitoba Hydro recognizes that hydroelectric development in Manitoba has affected the lake sturgeon populations so now we really want to be an environmental steward to the lake sturgeon populations to ensure that they persist and sustain for future generations."
Another interesting partnership with nature that Manitoba Hydro is utilizing is falconry. Pacific Northwest Raptors are being used to deter the 1000's of gulls and terns from nesting in the construction areas in order to minimize safety risks both to the workers and the birds. This has had great success as the birds are naturally pushing out to further habitats.
So, what is it like for the 17,000 plus employees of which 42% are Indigenous hires?
"Coming to a project like this is not something most people experience," says Craig Sambrooke of Keeyask Support Services, "to be away from family and friends for a long extended period of time, we have to provide them with something that at the end of the day motivateS employees to stay on the project. We have to retain talent and professionals on a project like this. We have to provide a homey atmosphere."
A private room complete with ensuite and a 32" TV; a dining room open 24/7 with healthy gourmet meals and snacks; 2 theatres; a games room; gym facilities with state of the art equipment; racquet ball courts; support services that include personal well-being counselling; Indigenous awareness, with ceremonies; and full medical services - does that sound "homey" enough to end a 10-15 hour work day?
Scott Powell summed it up. "We are not perfect. But pretty close. There is always room for improvement. We need that room."
The Keeyask Generating Station will be a source of renewable energy, providing approximately 65 megawatts of capacity and producing on average of 4.400 gigawatt hours of electricity each year. The new station will result in fewer GHG emissions over a century of operation than an equivalent natural-gas fired station would release in half a year or a coal -fired facility in less than 100 days. The energy produced will be integrated into Manitoba hydro's electric system for use in Manitoba and to export to other jurisdictions.
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