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Manitoba First Nation Lobbies Minnesota Against Large Hydro

Representatives of the 8,600-member Pimicikamak Okimawin First Nation were in Minnesota last week, lobbying against a measure that would allow the state’s power utilities to include new large hydro projects in their renewable portfolio standard (RPS) targets.

“Currently, Minnesota does not allow utilities to count hydropower projects of more than 100 megawatts in renewable energy standards’ calculations,” Midwest Energy News explains. “Although the state has seen little hydropower built in recent years, Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power both buy power from Manitoba Hydro, which provides the state with an estimated 11 percent of its electricity.”

The legislation, now before the Minnesota House of Representatives, would allow the companies to buy power from the 695-MW Keeyask large hydro project, now under construction on Manitoba’s Nelson River.

Darin Paupanakis, secretary to the Pimicikamak Councils, said large hydro projects in Manitoba “have turned the environment upside down” for many First Nations, adding that his community did not consent to hydro construction in its territory. “They say hydro is green and renewable, but where I come from it’s gangrene and un-renewable—gangrene because it cuts off the life of the river and its tributaries, leaving them suffocated and destroyed.”

“Flooding from the dams has destroyed islands, uprooted grave sites, eroded shorelines, and had a severely negative impact on wildlife,” MWEN reports. “Although Manitoba Hydro promised the dams would provide economic opportunity, little has materialized. Only 53 of the utility’s estimated 6,200 workers are residents of the Pimicikamak area,” despite high unemployment and poverty.

Citing Pimicikamak Okimawin advocacy director Will Braun, MWEN reports that “frustration levels have run high in the tribe, not just over the environmental degradation caused by dams but by high energy prices. Tribal members pay utilities bills of $300 to $800 a month throughout the year.”