Manitoba

Manitoba Hydro told to charge customers 2.9% more for electricity

Manitoba Hydro is being told to charge customers an extra 2.9 per cent for electricity starting in December.

Government order dismisses usual process of holding public hearing to change rates

Electricity rates will rise by 2.9 per cent this December, if government legislation is passed. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Manitoba Hydro is being told to charge customers an extra 2.9 per cent for electricity starting in December.

The provincial government introduced legislation Friday that includes the rate increase, bypassing the usual practice of Hydro asking for a rate increase and then the Public Utilities Board having the final say.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew decried the government order, found in the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act, as sneaky and underhanded.

"As it stands, there should be no increase to people's hydro bills this coming year, but because of this bill, introduced at the last minute, the Friday before a long weekend, now Mr. Pallister and his PCs want to raise your hydro bills going into the next year," Kinew said.

"I don't think that's fair."

Kinew said his party will try to stop the legislation from passing.

Usual rate increase delayed: Hydro

Manitoba Hydro has not sought a rate increase this year. A Hydro spokesperson previously told CBC News the utility held off, in part, because of a law, introduced in March but wiped out in September when the legislative sitting was reset, that would have instituted multi-year rate hearings involving the PUB rather than annual hearings.

The province said in its throne speech Wednesday that it would reintroduce the bill, but it isn't known if the bill will be amended.

The government previously argued that fewer public hearings would save taxpayers millions of dollars, but the Public Interest Law Centre says the PUB has saved far more money than it costs, such as in 2018, when the PUB saved Manitobans $60 million in one year by granting Hydro a 3.6 per cent rate hike, instead of the requested 7.9 per cent.

Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding says the province strives to keep electricity rates affordable, but the Crown corporation is paying off expensive infrastructure projects. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Hydro increased customer rates in the 2019-20 fiscal year by 2.5 per cent, which is less than the 3.5 per cent average the utility proposed.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding said Friday that Hydro is going through a "transition year" because the pandemic disrupted the government's attempt to reform the PUB.

"We do want to make life more affordable for Manitobans. It's really unfortunate for ratepayers that the NDP did a whole bunch of projects [while in government] that's cost billions of dollars in overruns," he said.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont accused the government of interfering in Hydro's affairs. 

"These are decisions that need to be made by the Public Utilities Board, which the Pallister government is undermining," he said.

"I've said it before: the premier is a control freak, and he is determined to control Crown corporations." 

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story indicated the province hadn't said if it would reintroduce legislation to reform the Public Utilities Board. In fact, the throne speech confirmed the legislation will be reintroduced, but the province hasn't said what the new bill might entail.
    Oct 10, 2020 1:30 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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