Ahead of the election, Brian Pallister promised that on taking government he would halt Bipole III and call a review by the Public Utilities Board. He also pledged that he would create a new body to drive energy efficiency (one without Hydro’s conflict of interest – needing to maximize consumption to support dam construction). And, he said nothing about a carbon tax on Manitobans heating by natural gas.
Pallister’s new Hydro board is now directed to make all Hydro decisions. Hydro’s continuing executives greeted their new board with a promising, aggressive energy efficiency plan, which, if implemented, reduces the need for new power by the equivalent of two Keeyask dams. Since then, however, Hydro spending has continued at $10 million a day and no external public review has been planned or held. As for the promised new independent energy conservation agency and new efficiency plan: nowhere to be seen.
Hydro has long been a powerful entity, a monopoly that gets its own way even when wrong.
Hydro executives convinced its new board that the expansion should proceed and Hydro, should keep its control over energy efficiency measures. No doubt, Hydro realizes this conflict of interest could reduce Manitoba’s need for new dams. If the need is reduced while the expansion goes ahead the new generation from Keeyask would be sold to Americans at below cost bargain prices. For Hydro it is better to have a controlled low-performance energy efficiency plan resulting in higher demand by Manitobans than to dump the electricity at a massive losses for export.
Hydro doesn’t want its expansion to be stopped, even a pause allowing for the possibility of a better long-term rate outlook for ratepayers. Along with getting its way to finish wasteful expansion, shelving an arm’s length energy efficiency body yet another victory for the executives. The new board blames the excessive expansion and higher rates it will bring on the prior NDP government. While blame is justified, by letting this boondoggle continue the new government continues to benefit from a growing flow of money to its pocket from Hydro bills.
Winners from this boondoggle of historic proportions will cash in big – Hydro executives, suppliers to Hydro, contractors, First Nations, American utilities, and the government. Losers are Hydro’s customers.
What is wrong with this picture? For one, promises that helped Pallister gain power have been broken. He leaves decision-making to a new board with limited utility experience listening to Hydro executives wanting to maintain control. What else is wrong? Despite an economic disaster likely to strangle ratepayers and the overall economy for decades, we are not even be allowed to know the what, why, cost, implications and options of this sorry saga. We are left just to PAY.
The most costly mistake in Manitoba history has been made, money squandered and even crimes likely committed. Knowledgeable ratepayers demand a proper inquiry. The recent standing legislative committee’s review of Hydro’s annual reports didn’t get beyond the ‘skin’ while raising the possibility of a new provincial carbon tax pushing up natural gas heating bills.
With a proper mandate and knowledgeable interveners, PUB has the legislative tools to hold a thorough inquiry. The public deserves to know what has been done with their money.
Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).
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