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Public Utilities Board disappoints, get ready to be fleeced

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11Aug

By Graham Lane
Winnipeg Sun, August 10, 2017

The Public Utilities Board has upped Hydro rates again, this time by 3.36%. Since the first phase of Hydro’s costly expansion — the building of the money-losing Wuskwatim dam — electricity rates have jumped 50%.

Anyone happy that the latest rate hike wasn’t worse should give their head a shake; the “worse” is still to come. The latest rate hike was only provisional, Hydro still seeks rate hikes of 7.9% a year for five straight years. PUB’s verdict on that plan will follow a longer hearing later this year.

The truth is that Hydro may end up seeking even higher hikes than sought so far. Make no mistake, Hydro is in rough condition — mostly because of the NDP’s handiwork, but Pallister hasn’t helped either.

Major issues were not even touched upon in the latest Hydro-PUB get together —particularly whether the government should accept its responsibility for the $25 billion boondoggle rather than profiting from it. Also, nothing much was said about the impact of the much higher rates to come on lower-income households, households heating electrically, and northern communities. Will large industry stay and expand if rates go sky high?

And, still no call for an inquiry. If there was ever a case where a public inquiry is needed, it is for this screwed-up monopoly run by incompetent politicians assisted by weak Hydro managers and compliant board members. As for PUB, its members were appointed without an open competition by a government that can shed them without notice; now serving at the pleasure of Brian Pallister.

If you think PUB is in the corner of beleaguered ratepayers, think again.

If Hydro was a private utility, it would be broke. Private shareholders would take the hit, not ratepayers. No competent and independent regulator would make ratepayers pay for all the blunders. Private shareholders and bondholders would be made to pay for the utility’s mistake. Then, the utility would get a new owner to pick up the pieces, and for an economic price, rates would not escalate.

What we are watching is a play, the script fashioned on Broadway, Hydro’s Portage mega-palace headquarters, and PUB’s hearing rooms. Millions are regularly spent in PUB hearings, great billings for lawyers and consultants. Billions have been wasted on dams and transmission not needed for a quarter of a century if at all.

Hundreds of more millions have gone down the drain inducing First Nations to enter into so-called partnerships — Hydro runs the show, entirely. And, for the First Nations getting no-risk gifts funded by other ratepayers, along with expensive sole-source contracts and more — remember, they are customers just like every else.

PUB plays ringmaster, contributing to the fiasco by dutifully aiding the manipulation of Hydro’s books through regulatory accounting games. We, ratepayers, are innocent lambs awaiting fleecing.

The opposition is quiet. We can understand the NDP’s silence, also that of long-gone Hydro executives and past board members. But, where are the Liberals? I guess being in the midst of a leadership contest and having only three seats in the Legislature makes it tough to defend taxpayers and ratepayers. Are we left with newly-minted independent MLA Steven Fletcher, tossed by an insecure Pallister, to call it straight?

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

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