Independent MLA starts 'inquiry' into Manitoba Hydro

Independent MLA Steven Fletcher has questions about Manitoba Hydro and he isn't satisfied with answers given by the Crown corporation's management and board or at recently held Public Utilities Board hearings.

Steven Fletcher wants to know how Hydro got so deep in debt and overbuilt its capacity

Rogue MLA Steven Fletcher has questions about Manitoba Hydro's debt, the Bipole III transmission line and Efficiency Manitoba. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Independent MLA Steven Fletcher has questions about Manitoba Hydro and he isn't satisfied with answers given by the Crown corporation's management and board or at recently held Public Utilities Board hearings.

The maverick former Progressive Conservative member for Assiniboia is holding a "citizen's inquiry" into the state of Manitoba Hydro and what he calls an overbuilt power supply while utility rates "are going through the roof."

The Public Utilities Board is currently considering a rate increase of 7.9 per cent, and Manitoba Hydro management has indicated it plans to ask for annual increases of 7.9 per cent until 2023-24.

Fletcher also wants to know who authorized the location of the Bipole III power line and why the current government has ordered the creation of the new Crown corporation Efficiency Manitoba.

Fletcher, who was booted from the Progressive Conservative caucus for his criticism of his own government's plan for Efficiency Manitoba, is streaming his inquiry on his Facebook page.

The former federal MP has formed a panel of citizens to hear testimony, which includes Philip Blain, a retired manager in the telecom and electronics field, Esther Lenz, a landowner whose property was expropriated for Bipole III, and Dennis Woodford, an electrical engineer and former Hydro employee. 
MLA Steven Fletcher, left, launches his 'citizens inquiry' into Manitoba Hydro. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Lenz, part of a coalition that fought the expropriation of her family's property, said she still has many questions about the terms and conditions of Hydro's use of the land it now owns and her rights as an adjacent property owner.

"Not only has the legacy [of Manitoba Hydro] has been severely harmed, but the future of Manitoba is in jeopardy. We need to find out how this happened, who is responsible — hold them accountable," Fletcher said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Some of the questions Fletcher wants answered have been addressed by Hydro executives or the utility's board chair, Sandy Riley.

Riley has repeatedly said the utility was ordered by previous governments to expand its electrical generation capacity and those decisions have placed the company at severe financial risk.

However, Fletcher has raised concerns about a culture at Manitoba Hydro that has allowed massive cost overruns on projects such as the Bipole line and the Keeyask power dam.

The Progressive Conservative government has been vague about the details of Efficiency Manitoba, a new Crown corporation spun out of Hydro to replace its Power Smart energy savings program.

Fletcher said his inquiry will feature a number of submissions from experts, including a former Hydro staff person and a previous chair of the Public Utilities Board.