Hydroelectric Development in Northern Manitoba

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The potential for hydroelectric development in northern Manitoba was identified by the governments of Canada and Manitoba early in the last century. In 1913, the Department of Mines (Canada) conducted a comprehensive geological survey of the drainage basins of the Churchill and Nelson rivers to determine the power potential of Manitoba's northern rivers. At the time, the key challenge for developing this power was a lack of available technology for transmitting energy over long distances. However, the report (McInnes 1913) formed the basis for further studies that ultimately led to the development of Manitoba's northern water power resources.

A substantial amount of planning regarding potential ways to meet the Province’s future power needs was conducted by the province of Manitoba during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1947, Manitoba Water Resources Branch initiated surveys of the upper reaches of the Nelson River and concluded that approximately 160 MW of potential power was available between Warren Landing and Cross Lake. In the 1950s, studies by the Manitoba Department of Mines and Natural Resources were also conducted at several locations including Long Spruce Rapids to Limestone Rapids (Verner 1955a), Devils Rapids to Birthday Rapids (Verner 1955b), Birthday Rapids to Butnau River (Verner 1956), and the Churchill River and Burntwood River systems (Gould 1958) as well as several other areas.

In 1956, Vale (formerly International Nickel Company or INCO) advised the Manitoba Hydro Electric Board that they would need electricity for a town and mining development that they were planning to build in the future City of Thompson area. Planning for this requirement was not part of previous studies and the Kelsey generating station project was developed very quickly, and is further described in ‘Hydroelectric Development from 1950 to 1976’.

In 1958, the governments of Canada and Manitoba jointly funded the Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba Board to determine if the regulation of Lake Winnipeg could be used to reduce flooding around Lake Winnipeg. The study found that although regulation could provide flood control, that the benefits from flood control by itself could not be justified from an economic perspective. However, the Board concluded that Lake Winnipeg Regulation (LWR) would be valuable for hydroelectric development if the total capacity of the Nelson River hydroelectric plants reached several hundred megawatts.

By the early 1960s, Manitoba needed to increase its energy production to meet growing provincial demand either through thermal or hydroelectric production. During this timeframe, advances were made in the field of High Voltage Direct Current (HVdc) power transmission, which would allow power to be transferred more efficiently from the north to the south. Subsequently, the governments of Canada and Manitoba formed the Nelson River Programming Board (NRPB) in 1963, which:

“…investigated the power potential of the Nelson River and considered the merits of diverting a substantial portion of the flows from the Churchill River via the Rat and Burntwood rivers into the lower Nelson River to augment the power potential of sites at Kettle Rapids, and downstream areas. A follow-up program was conducted in 1964 and, in December 1965, the NRPB recommended that the Government consider a Phase I plan of hydroelectric generation.” (Tritschler 1979, pg.35)

The plan originally envisioned four phases of development for the area downstream of Kettle Rapids – namely — Kettle Generating Station (GS), Long Spruce GS, Lower Limestone GS, and Gillam Island GS. The federal and provincial governments entered into an agreement on February 15, 1966, to jointly undertake the development of the hydroelectric potential of the Nelson River in a phased approach. Phase I of the plan consisted of the following:

  • the regulation of Lake Winnipeg (now known as Lake Winnipeg Regulation or LWR);
  • the diversion of flows from the Churchill River (via the Rat and Burntwood rivers) into the Nelson River (now known as the Churchill River Diversion or CRD);
  • a generating station at Kettle Rapids on the lower Nelson River (now known as the Kettle GS); and
  • the construction of two converter stations and a HVdc transmission line from the Kettle GS to southern Manitoba (now known as Bipole I).

The NRPB indicated that Phase I of the plan was the lowest cost option that would be economically feasible for hydroelectric development in northern Manitoba and would be fully compatible with, and would facilitate, the development of hydroelectric power in the North. The NRPB stated that the storage capacity in Lake Winnipeg and Southern Indian Lake (SIL) would be required to maximize the financial benefits of the developments. At SIL, both a high level and a low level diversion option were considered, both would cause substantial flooding on SIL but the high level CRD option would require the entire community of South Indian Lake to be moved and would cause adverse environmental impacts as far upstream as Granville Lake. The result was that the government of Manitoba approved the low level option for CRD, and is further described in ‘Hydroelectric Development from 1950 to 1976’.

All four of the recommended projects were constructed between 1966 and 1976: Bipole I (1968 to 1971); Kettle Rapids GS (1966 to1974); LWR (1970 to 1976), and the CRD (1973 to 1976). It should be noted that construction of Bipole II (a second parallel HVdc transmission line) was initiated at the same time as Bipole I as it was more efficient to build them at the same time. Bipole II was then extended in 1977 from the Radisson Converter Station to the Henday Converter Station. Phases II and III followed respectively when the Long Spruce GS was completed in 1979 and the Limestone GS was completed in 1992.

In recent times growing demand has resulted in the development of the Wuskwatim Generation Project completed in 2012, and the Keeyask Generation Project currently under construction.

Hydroelectric Development from 1950 to 1976

Kelsey Generating Station

The Kelsey GS was the first generating station constructed on the Nelson River at a site known as Grand Rapids. Construction of the first phase of the development of the station and associated infrastructure occurred between 1957 and 1961. Initially, the Kelsey GS consisted of a five-unit 160 MW development with the sole purpose to provide power to Vale (formerly International Nickel Company or INCO) mining and smelting operations in the Moak Lake and Mystery Lake areas and to the City of Thompson. A sixth unit was installed in 1969 and a seventh unit in 1972. To deliver the power to the City of Thompson, two 138 kV transmission lines were constructed and in-service by 1960. Over the years, the transmission components into and out of the Kelsey GS, initially dedicated to Vale and the City of Thompson, have been expanded, broadening the station’s role in Manitoba Hydro’s power system.

Descriptions of the Kelsey GS, associated supporting infrastructure, transmission facilities, and additional development phases are provided in Kelsey Generating Station.

Kettle Generating Station & HVdc Transmission System

The Kettle GS was the second generating station constructed on the Nelson River, at a site previously known as Kettle Rapids just upstream of where the Hudson Bay Railway line crossed the Nelson River. Construction of the station began in 1966 and was completed in 1974. In order to get the power to load centers in southern Manitoba a HVdc transmission system was constructed and consists of the Radisson and Dorsey converter stations and Bipoles I and II transmission lines. The Radisson Converter Station was constructed south of the Kettle GS and became operational in 1971 with all work completed by 1977. Radisson Converter Station converted power from alternating current to direct current and then transmitted the power along the 556 mi. (895 km) Bipole I transmission line to Dorsey Converter Station in southern Manitoba, located northwest of the City of Winnipeg near the community of Rosser. The development of the HVdc lines were undertaken as a federal-provincial initiative under a 1966 agreement. The federal government was represented by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which financed, designed, and constructed two HVdc transmission lines. The province was represented by Manitoba Hydro and the company agreed to pay back the initial financing for the lines over the next 50 years. However, this was accomplished within 21 years and was repaid in full by 1992.

Descriptions of the Kettle GS, associated supporting infrastructure, and transmission facilities are provided in Kettle Generating Station.

Descriptions of the Radisson Converter Station and Bipoles I and II are provided in HVDC Transmission System.

Lake Winnipeg Regulation

Lake Winnipeg Regulation was constructed between 1970 and 1976 (installation of the generating units at Jenpeg GS was completed in 1979). Lake Winnipeg Regulation consists of the following operational, supplementary and mitigation components:

  • The Jenpeg GS and Control Structure (CS) which regulates Lake Winnipeg’s outflow through the western channel of the Nelson River;
  • A series of diversion channels that increase the outflow capacity from Lake Winnipeg into the Nelson River (Two-Mile, Eight-Mile, Ominawin Bypass, and Kisipachewuk Channel Improvement);
  • The Kiskitto Lake Inlet CS, Main Dam and Dykes which separate Kiskitto Lake from LWR to minimize flooding caused by backwater effects and to provide regulated inflows;
  • The Black Duck CS and Diversion Channel and Stan Creek Diversion to mitigate the effects on Kiskitto Lake, and
  • Later in 1991, construction was completed on the Cross Lake Weir to lessen the effects of LWR by increasing the average water level and reducing the range of water levels on Cross Lake.

Descriptions of LWR and associated supporting infrastructure are provided in Lake Winnipeg Regulation.

Descriptions of the Jenpeg GS, associated supporting infrastructure and transmission facilities are provided in Jenpeg Generating Station.

Churchill River Diversion

The low level CRD was approved by the Province of Manitoba in 1973 with the granting of a Water Power Act (WPA) licence “for the Diversion of water from the Churchill River to the Nelson River, and the Impoundment of Water on the Rat River and Southern Indian Lake”. Construction began in 1973 and the diversion was in operation in 1976. The CRD has three main components:

  • The Missi Falls CS at the natural outlet of SIL, which raises the lake’s level by 9 ft (3 m) and controls the outflow to the lower Churchill River;
  • The South Bay Diversion Channel from the South Bay of SIL to Issett Lake, which creates a new outlet that allows water to flow from the Churchill River into the Rat River-Burntwood River-Nelson River systems;
  • The Notigi CS located on the Rat River at the outlet of Notigi Lake which regulates the flow into the Burntwood River-Nelson River systems; and
  • Subsequently, two mitigation components were added: the Manasan Falls Ice Control Structure and the Churchill Weir.

After construction was completed, initial operations in 1977 revealed that impacts downstream of Notigi during open water conditions were similar to expected and during winter conditions, ice impacts were much less than expected. This led to a decision to explore higher diversion flows. In 1978, Manitoba Hydro requested approval to test the diversion capacity over a wider range than was set out in the WPA Licence. After a multi-year testing phase, approval to deviate from the terms of the WPA Licence have been the same for each winter and summer period since 1986. This mode of operation has become known as the Augmented Flow Program and continues to the present day.

Descriptions of the CRD and associated supporting infrastructure are provided in Churchill River Diversion.

Long Spruce Generating Station

The Long Spruce GS was constructed at a site previously known as Long Spruce Rapids, downstream of the Kettle GS on the lower Nelson River. Construction began in 1971 and was completed by 1979. The station is operated as a run-of-river plant that passes the water that the Kettle GS releases into Long Spruce’s forebay. When the Long Spruce GS became operational, the Radisson Converter Station converted part of the power from the generating station to direct current for transmission to southern Manitoba. However, only half of the power generated at Long Spruce GS could be converted at the Radisson Converter Station, so the Henday Converter Station was constructed 26 miles (42 km) northeast of the Radisson Converter Station. Constructing the Henday Converter Station also created additional conversion capacity for potential future generating stations. Construction of the Henday Converter Station began in 1970 and began transforming power from Long Spruce in 1978.

Descriptions of the Long Spruce GS, associated supporting infrastructure, and transmission facilities are provided in Long Spruce Generating Station.

In order to accommodate the additional power from the Long Spruce GS, Bipole II was extended 26 miles (42 km) in 1977 from the Radisson Converter Station to the Henday Converter Station. Bipole II total length is 582 miles (937 km) long beginning at the Henday Converter Station and ending at the Dorsey Converter Station northwest of the City of Winnipeg. In addition to the above, two sets of three 230 kV transmission lines were constructed to further connect the Long Spruce GS to the Radisson and Henday Converter Stations.

Descriptions of the Henday Converter Station and Bipole II are provided in HVDC Transmission System.

Hydroelectric Development from 1976 to 2015

Limestone Generating Station

In 1976, construction began on the Limestone GS downstream from the Long Spruce GS on the lower Nelson River. The location is at the upper Limestone Rapids just above where the Limestone River empties into the Nelson River. In 1978, construction of the supporting infrastructure and the first cofferdam was well on its way when a decision was made to postpone Limestone due to decreased provincial load growth.

Construction of the Limestone GS re-started in 1985 and construction was completed in 1992. The station is operated as a run-of-river plant that passes the water that the Kettle GS releases and is passed through the Long Spruce GS. In 1989, a 25-mile (40 km) extension of an existing 138 kV line from the Radisson Converter Station to the Limestone GS was constructed to provide an emergency back up for the station. In 1992, a 5.6 mile (9 km) back up for the Bipole II HVdc line was added which originates from the Henday Converter Station and extending across the Nelson River.

Descriptions of the Limestone GS, associated supporting infrastructure, and transmission facilities are provided in Limestone Generating Station.

Conawapa Generation Project

In 1990, a power sale agreement for 1,000 MW was signed with the Province of Ontario, requiring the construction of the Conawapa GS, which would be destined to become the fourth phase of the original lower Nelson River development plan. However, Conawapa was not apart of the original plan. Conawapa only became an option in the early 1970s once the decision on the location and size of the Limestone GS was made, which allowed for an additional station downstream. Construction began with an access road from the Limestone area in 1991 and the clearing of a construction power line right-of-way. However, the Province of Ontario cancelled the energy purchase contract with Manitoba Hydro in 1993, resulting in the cancellation of the project and the deferral of all activities.

In 2003, with the projection of higher demand for energy both domestically and externally, Manitoba Hydro resumed studies for the potential Conawapa Generation Project (GP). Due to the number of years that had lapsed since the Conawapa GS was last studied in detail, a review of all aspects of the design, construction methodology and schedule was initiated as well as the undertaking of necessary environmental studies. All work was underway to achieve a 2026 in-service date (ISD) until the conclusion of the Needs For and Alternatives To (NFAT) review by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) of Manitoba Hydro’s preferred development plan, which proposed the construction of the Conawapa GS among other projects. In June of 2014, the PUB recommended that, “Spending on the Conawapa Project and the North-South Transmission Upgrade Project be discontinued immediately and the projects terminated”. The government of Manitoba provided direction to Manitoba Hydro in July of 2014 to which Manitoba Hydro proposed to wind down Conawapa related planning activities over a two-year period while a stronger business case is developed.

Wuskwatim Generation Project

The most recently developed hydroelectric generating station in northern Manitoba is the Wuskwatim GS, which began operating in 2012. The project is located on the Burntwood River between the community of Nelson House and the City of Thompson. Construction began in 2006 and was completed by 2012.

The Wuskwatim GP was developed as a partnership between the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) and Manitoba Hydro. The Wuskwatim GS is owned by the Wuskwatim Power Limited Partnership, a legal entity involving NCN and Manitoba Hydro. The partnership agreement represented a major shift in the way hydroelectric projects are developed in Manitoba. The first of its kind in Canada, the partnership with NCN demonstrated a movement towards collaborative development of projects. The participation of NCN in the entire process resulted in a project that included Aboriginal traditional knowledge (ATK) in both the assessment and monitoring phases. This development was also the first generating station in Manitoba to have undergone both Manitoba Environment Act and a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act approval processes.

The development of the Wuskwatim GS required new transmission lines and stations to deliver electricity into the existing transmission system. Manitoba Hydro owns the transmission components. The points of connection are at a new station called Birchtree near the City of Thompson and at the Herblet Lake Station at Snow Lake. A 230 kV transmission line was also constructed from the Herblet Lake Station to the existing Rall’s Island Station at the Town of The Pas. One 28 mile (45 km), 230 kV transmission line runs from the Birchtree Station to the Wuskwatim GS, while two single-circuit 230 kV lines approximately 85 miles each (approximately 137 km each) run from the Wuskwatim GS to the Herblet Lake Station on a shared right-of-way.

Descriptions of the Wuskwatim GP, associated supporting infrastructure, and transmission facilities are provided in Wuskwatim Generating Station.

Projects Currently under Development

Bipole III Transmission Project

Manitoba Hydro is currently constructing the Bipole III Transmission Project, which is the third HVdc transmission line in the province. The line originates at the new Keewatinohk Converter Station under construction near the potential Conawapa GP site and terminates at the new Riel Converter Station located east of the City of Winnipeg. Apart from the Bipole III line and new converter stations, the Bipole III Transmission Project will require new 230 kV transmission lines linking the Keewatinohk Converter Station to the Henday Converter Station and to the Long Spruce GS. The regulatory approval process for the Bipole III Project included a Manitoba Environment Act review process.

The power transmitted by Bipole III will originate at existing generating stations on the lower Nelson River (Kettle GS, Long Spruce GS, and Limestone GS). As described above, the existing generating stations are linked to Bipoles I and II via the alternating current transmission lines to the Radisson and Henday Converter Stations. The Keewatinohk Converter Station and associated transmission lines will add flexibility and reliability, ensuring that the power generated is transmitted into the transmission system. The connections include five 230 kV transmission lines with one of the transmission lines extending from the Long Spruce GS to the Keewatinohk Converter Station. The additional four transmission lines will extend from the Henday Converter Station to the Keewatinohk Converter Station.

A description of the Bipole III Transmission Project is provided in BiPole III.

Keeyask Generation Project

The Keeyask GP is located at Gull Rapids, upstream of the Kettle GS, and downstream of the community of Split Lake. The Keeyask GP is being developed by the Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership (KHLP), which consists of Manitoba Hydro and investment entities representing the four First Nations in the vicinity of the Project – Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) and War Lake First Nation (WLFN) working together as the Cree Nation Partners, York Factory First Nation (YFFN), and Fox Lake Cree Nation (FLCN). The Keeyask GP is composed of the Keeyask Infrastructure Project (KIP) and the Keeyask GS, which will be owned by the partnership. The Keeyask Transmission Project will be owned by Manitoba Hydro.

The KIP began in early 2012 and involved the construction of an access road and camp. Construction of the generating station began in July of 2014 and is scheduled to begin operation in 2019, with all units online by 2020. The Keeyask Transmission Project will provide construction power and generation outlet transmission for the Keeyask GP. Manitoba Hydro will own the transmission components.

A description of the Keeyask GP is provided in Keeyask Generating Station.


Manitoba Hydro & the Province of Manitoba, December 2015, Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment Phase II: Part II Hydroelectric Development Project Description in the Region of Interest. Retrieved April 1 2016 from, https://www.hydro.mb.ca/regulatory_affairs/rcea/pdf/rcea_phase2_part_ii_hydroelectric_development_project_description.pdf