Manitobans are weighing in today about three proposed hydroelectric projects and the impacts of current and future electricity costs on their lives.
The Public Utilities Board is conducting a Need For and Alternative To (NFAT) review of Manitoba Hydro's development planning, which includes the Keeyask and Conawapa hydroelectric generating stations and a Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line.
The projects are worth more than $16 billion, paid partially through rate increases.
Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said the energy provider is mindful of how costs associated with the projects would affect Manitobans.
"We are sensitive to the impact of those rate increases on our customers," said Powell.
The utilities board is hearing on Wednesday from a panel of ratepayers, chosen by the Consumers Association of Canada, about what rising electricity costs mean for them.
Members of the consumer panel include newcomers to Canada, ratepayers on low incomes, and those living in rural and remote parts of Manitoba.
"Me or my husband will need to work an additional job," said Jacqueline Salamisan, one of the panel members. "I'm really concerned for the first 5 and 10 years, because as new immigrants we are in the stage of still adjusting."
Salamisan said her family already spent 12 to 15 per cent of their budget on hydro bills, even though they try to conserve electricity.
The utilities board also heard from Albertine Mason, a single mother of six from Cross Lake, Man.
"I cannot find a job that would pay for how much I get on social assistance, plus my hydro," said Mason. "And to live comfortably, even on social assistance, that's still not enough for all six of us, but I am trying."
She told the five-person panel in Winnipeg that she was forced onto welfare because she could not afford her hydro bill. She fears future rate increases.
"I'm barely making it as it is," she said.
The Consumer Association of Canada projects annual bill increases over the next 10 years could be between $449 and $551, based on an annual $1,000 bill.
Gloria Desorcy, executive director of the association's Manitoba branch, said ratepayers ultimately pay for hydro projects.
"We hear from economists, we hear from financial experts, we talk about gigawatts and billions of dollars. But sometimes we forget about the actual consumer bill, and that's the big stakeholder here and we want to bring that perspective forward," she said.
Desorcy said her group is not necessarily trying to stop the construction of new hydro mega-projects, but people just want more information.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Manitoba Hydro's Bipole III transmission line is one of the projects being examined in the Public Utilities Board's review of the utility's development planning. In fact, it's a Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line that's being reviewed, not Bipole III, according to Hydro.Apr 23, 2014 1:02 PM CT