Coalition says ratepayers 'in the dark,' calls for public review of Manitoba Hydro's financial health

A coalition of organizations in the province are calling for a transparent review of Manitoba Hydro’s financial state for the sake of its ratepayers.

3 major projects came online since last hearing took place, so review sorely needed, coalition says

The Consumers Coalition says ratepayers are left in the dark about Manitoba Hydro's financial health. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A coalition of organizations in the province is calling for a transparent review of Manitoba Hydro's financial state for the sake of its ratepayers.

A group called the Consumers Coalition submitted a request to the Public Utilities Board on Friday calling for a transparent review — something that hasn't happened since 2018.

"It's time for the sake of consumers and it's time for the sake of all parties in Manitoba that we have a chance to get Manitoba Hydro's financial position on the public record," said Gloria Desorcy, executive director of the Manitoba branch of the Consumers' Association of Canada, one of the members of the coalition. 

Desorcy says it's especially important that a review take place this year, given how many changes have occurred since the last full rate hearing.

Since 2018, the Crown corporation has brought into service both the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line and the Bipole III transmission line, as well as the first unit of the Keeyask generating station.

Hydro also confirmed a 30-year export sale with SaskPower.

With all these changes, Desorcy says Manitobans are "in the dark" about the utility's financial situation.

"It's very important that we have that information on the record so that we know that the rates are fair, that we're not paying too much, that we're not paying too little," she said. 

The other members of the coalition, Manitoba Harvest and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, worry for vulnerable Manitobans who are disproportionately impacted by hydro rates.

Concerns about Bill 35

The coalition is especially concerned about Bill 35, which the coalition believes will weaken the Public Utilities Board and allow the government to set hydro rates without the independent body's approval.

The independent board currently allows Manitobans to have their say through public hearings every year Manitoba Hydro applies for a rate change. It's the PUB that then rules on whether to allow the rate change.

But Bill 35 would have PUB approve electricity rates in five-year intervals rather than annually. Any rate adjustments would be approved through government regulation. If approved, the next PUB hearing would be in 2024.

That's why the Consumers Coalition is hoping for a review by this fall.

"If we have to go forward four years with that review, at least we've got this benchmark," Desorcy said. Without it, ratepayers could wait seven years.

Earlier this month, the Manitoba NDP said it would block this bill over similar concerns around Bill 35 undermining the PUB.

"These allegations are completely false," a spokesperson for the province said in an email on Saturday.

"Despite a coordinated campaign of misinformation by the NDP and their allies, our government is committed to strengthening the PUB and moving Hydro's financial and operational information from the dark — where it lived for years under the former government — into the light where it belongs so that Manitobans can have a full and true picture of what is happening with Manitoba's largest and most important Crown corporation."

Desrocy says the coalition is not aligned with any political agenda.

CBC News has also reached out to the Public Utilities Board and Manitoba Hydro for comment.


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