When "green" energy becomes an environmental threat:
We typically think of renewable, sustainable "green" energy sources as ways to generate power while avoiding large-scale ecological destruction, but as Manitoba Hydro has shown us, this is not always the case. The state-owned and regulated energy corporation has built dams ,reservoirs and generating stations to exploit the power of northern Manitoba's rivers for almost three decades, but in their its efforts to re-engineer natural rivers into damable waterways, Manitoba Hydro has unwittingly washed away thousands of lives in the process and has deliberately impounded or destroyed thousands of acres of fragile boreal forests, muskegs, lakes and uplands, and the subsistence way of life of Manitoba's First Nations.
An example of the ecological destruction in the name safe, cheap, renewable energy is Cross Lake, a once self-sufficient indigenous Manitoba community now reduced to an environmental slum. Since the 1970's, Manitoba has enjoyed a large surplus of exportable hydroelectricity, and the Pimicikamak Crees have sunk deeper and deeper into the depths of ecological disaster in order for this to happen, and they continue to suffer profound despair at the loss of their
once-pristine traditional lands.
Pimicikamak Cree Nation has seen the waters of the nearby Nelson River fluctuate eight to ten feet above and below normal levels, flooding and eroding once-fertile land teeming with wildlife upon which the Crees
depended for their subsistence. The flooded vegetation releases pernicious
gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that are major contributors to
global warming. Methylmercury now contaminates the water, and the Pimicikamak Crees are warned to reduce their consumption of fish and fish-eating mammals.
Along with the conversion from wilderness to wasteland exists another conversion, that of a people. In a single generation the Pimicikamak Cree Indians have gone from being self-sufficient to becoming dependent upon government handouts, and are plagued with a soaring suicide rate, substance abuse and an unemployment rate of 85 percent. All of these issues are the by-products of Manitoba Hydro's rich power exporting business. Recently the hydro giant announced plans to double its exports to United States utilities, which would compound the misery of Pimicikamak Crees who live along the watery paths of progress.
This issue is of particular interest to Minnesotans, because Northern States Power Co. is Manitoba Hydro's primary customer, buying 90 percent of Manitoba Hydro's product. In essence, our warmth and convenience are coming at a steep price. We citizens of Minnesota do not have the option of choosing a more socially and environmentally responsible power provider. NSP says that Minnesota needs an additional 1200 MW of electricity in coming years. It has identified seven companies which would like to supply some of that electricity, and Manitoba Hydro is on the list. Concerned Minnesotans who have heard the Pimicikamak Crees' story are now writing to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and to Northern States Power to demand an end to negotiations with Manitoba Hydro. Minnesota has alternatives, including conservation and energy efficiencies that displace the "need" to buy electricity from Manitoba Hydro.
And if Minnesotans are truly serious about their much-touted commitment to
the environment and human rights, now is the time to act, before more of
North America's remaining boreal forest -- as important as the forests of
the Amazon -- goes under water, and another precious indigenous culture is