Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has joined two former premiers as well as ex-Manitoba Hydro executives in demanding a full review of the Crown corporation’s dam and transmission construction plans.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, he said the Selinger government appears hell-bent that Hydro spend tens of billions of dollars to expand power production at a time when U.S. energy markets are shifting and Manitoba is in danger of witnessing once-promising electricity exports disappear.
"This is the largest mega-proposal in the history of Manitoba," Pallister said of plans to build the $3.28 billion BiPole III transmission line and the proposed Keeyask ($6.2 billion) and Conawapa ($10.2 billion) power dams. Altogether, Manitoba Hydro projects capital spending of $34 billion over the next two decades.
"This is a massive undertaking. It’s almost beyond comprehension how big this is," the Tory leader said.
Pallister said the Selinger government is stubbornly sticking to past analyses of U.S. energy demand to back its quest to build new dams. Such a decision could come back to bite Manitoba ratepayers, he said.
Besides a 3.5 per cent rate increase this year, Hydro has already said it will seek increases of 3.95 per cent in each of the following 18 years from Manitoba consumers to support its construction plans.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released an open letter to Premier Greg Selinger saying Hydro’s $34-billion development plan is too risky and could result in a rate shock to customers.
The letter included statements against the project from former premiers Ed Schreyer and Gary Filmon and was supported by former Hydro executives Len Bateman and Will Tishinski.
"What it’s doing is costing Manitobans dearly into the future," Bateman said. "I think it’s high time to reexamine it."
Critics of the government’s Hydro expansion plans say domestic electricity consumption won’t warrant any new hydro development for at least a decade.
However, Stan Struthers, the minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, said "it’s clear that within the decade (Manitoba) could run out of power" if it does not continue to expand production. If Hydro were to cancel its construction programs, the province may have to import power and rates "could go through the roof," he said.
Struthers argued that Hydro’s overall development plan is already undergoing "one of the most vigorous project reviews" in the province’s history. Hydro has submitted 5,000 pages of documentation to the Public Utilities Board, and the PUB has hired eight independent consulting firms to examine it over the next 10 months, he said.
He said former NDP premier Schreyer "got it right" when he was in power and pushed for hydroelectric dam construction to meet Manitobans’ power needs.