Thursday 30 June 2011

Bipole and Beers debate, with bonus doodle of John Baird

My haphazard notes, impressions, and thoughts in no particular order from the debate Monday night:

Dr. Jon Gerrard (Liberal)
Hugh McFadyen (PC)
James Beddome (Green)
Stan Struthers (NDP)

Colin Craig (Cdn Taxpayer Federation)

I missed the openings for Jon and Hugh because my garage door came off the rails and jammed, trapping my truck in my garage. (Yeah, that’s right James: I drive a truck. It’s a small one though and I carpool to work.)

Stan’s opening: we can’t shy away from making the “tough decisions” (an ironic choice of words I thought); if we go down the east side “there will be no sale at the end of the line”, implying that the U.S. will not buy power from us if we do so – a theme that came up several times; and talk of lawsuits etc. for an east-side route. He also said something else interesting: that the west side route would allow exporting power to Saskatchewan, while mocking the idea of building a line all the way over from the east side route. More on that later.

James was as well prepared for the debate as anyone. His position was that Bipole III need not be built at all, and that we should focus on conservation of energy and increasing renewable energy sources instead of exporting to the U.S. with uncertain profit margins, pointing out that the costs of producing hydro power have escalated over the years. (My thought as he was saying this was that from a ‘green’ perspective, exporting hydro power is beneficial because it largely displaces fossil fuel power and reduces green house gas emissions.)

Jon, while acknowledging the inferiority of the west side route, advocated for the under-lake route rather than the east route. At one point, during a discussion about reliability, the conversation turned to east side vs. under lake, which Stan Struthers must have loved. Jon is very soft-spoken and there was a camera blocking my view of him, so for me it was almost like he wasn’t even there.

Hugh generally got the largest applauses of the evening, and argued very cogently on most points. He ran over time on several occasions, and Colin Craig, perhaps showing a little bias, was reluctant to crack the whip and cut him off. There was one time where Hugh voluntarily stopped talking because of shouting from the crowd when Colin refused to prevent him from finishing his somewhat lengthy thought.

Colin was also involved in the funniest moment of the evening, when Professor John Ryan took the microphone to question Hugh’s numbers. His run up to the question was rather long, and Colin took the mic away, only to give it back after protests from the audience, but then there was an amusing little wrestling match over the microphone itself. Colin had a couple pretty good jokes through the evening too, but otherwise left the talking to the politicians. Overall the debate had a good tempo, and Colin deserves credit for that.

Stan Struthers had the unfortunate task of representing the NDP in front of a mostly unsupportive audience, but loyally carried the party’s position. He drew jeers for two things:
1) his claim that the U.S. would not buy power from us if the east side route was chosen, even after former Hydro President and CEO Len Bateman got up and told him he was full of shit (but in slightly different words). Stan was very cagey at first. He said that the U.S. politicians “were very clear” that they would not buy power “if we kept doing things the same way.” Oh, is that very clear? Sounds pretty damn vague to me. He would NOT say “if we build bipole III down the east side”. At least not the first several times it came up, but eventually he did make a more direct connection with the east side which drew boos from the audience who knew better,
2) his mention of privatization. It did not come up as a question, but Stan made sure to weave it in to some of his responses. One time it drew jeers so loud that you couldn’t even hear him talk. “Stop wasting our time” people would yell, during Stan’s futile attempt to convince people that Hugh is actually Gary Filmon, only more evil.

I had some conversations with the candidates after the meeting. Highlights:

Jon Gerrard: I questioned Jon about confusing an already confusing topic by adding the third underwater alternative, suggesting that if he sided with Hugh leading up to the election it would give voters two clear choices and would maximize the chance that the west side route would not be built. Jon would not be swayed however, and insisted that the underwater route needs to be on the table right now. I think I insulted him a little bit when I said it wouldn’t get built because the Liberals would never win power, but he rightfully pointed out that they could hold the balance of power and have influence that way.

James Beddome: I had a good time talking with James, who it turns out is not a stranger to this blog. He and I agree on certain things, like the concept of inverted Hydro rates and allowing small private generators of electricity to feed power back into the grid. At one point when I was talking to James, Hugh came over to complement James on his intellectual consistency and his thoughtful arguments. I also found out that his nick name is Jimmy Bop, although I thought Elle (Federal NDP candidate) said “Jiffy Pop”, so I will forevermore refer to James as Jiffy Pop.

Hugh McFadyen: I had a good chat with Hugh too, about converters and the west side route. When I suggested the underwater route would allow us to avoid the most problematic areas of the east side, Hugh said no, not really, because the underwater route may still go through Poplar River traditional territory, and they are the First Nation most opposed Bipole III.

On the converter issue, I argued that he should include converters in his cost estimates for the East side to give his numbers more credibility, and also to undermine the NDP’s only argument related to reliability. When Stan Struthers was questioned on reliability all he had was the fact that they are building new converts to add redundancy to the Dorsey station – something the PCs would likely do too, but cannot claim because they are not including the costs in their estimate. Hugh tells me that for technical reasons the converters for an east side route would be cheaper than the west side converters, but reliable estimates are not available yet.

Finally, Stan Struthers: I questioned Stan on one thing – his claim about being able to export power to Saskatchewan more easily from the West side. I pointed out that both lines terminate south of the city, so is he claiming that we can just splint into the line half way down and divert power off to Saskatchewan?

Stan: the engineers have assured us that we can send power to Saskatchewan.
Me: but you will need converters
Stan: we’re building converters
Me: but those converters are located south of Winnipeg, the same place as the East side converters would be.
Stan: but the west side route goes closer to Saskatchewan.
Me: so you’re saying you would build extra converters somewhere up near Dauphin to export power?
Stan: we’ve already factored in converters
Me: Yes, but those converters are south of Winnipeg. Either way, you’re running a line from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan
Stan: no we would run it from up near Dauphin
[repeat above conversation 4x]
Me: Okay, but you would need additional converters for that, which would cost billions more dollars
Stan: Well, we would sell them billions of dollars in power.

Wow, that was … more difficult than it should have been.

One last note: the power sales to the U.S. are in U.S. currency. Should the bottom fall out of the $US, Hydro would be in big trouble. The scuttlebutt Monday night after the debate was that the infamous NY whistleblower was fired in part because she suggested the possibility of Hydro going bankrupt as a result of a drop in the American dollar.


Now, as your reward for making it through all of that, I give to you the latest in my long tradition of offensive comic panels. This is a doodle I did on my coffee break on Monday when I found out that John Baird was visiting the rebels in Libya:

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