The Selinger government "tied the hands" of the Public Utilities Board in the board’s decision this week to approve Manitoba Hydro’s estimated $6.5-billion Keeyask generating station, the Opposition Tories say.
"The PUB is in a very difficult position mainly because of the position the government has put them in," Progressive Conservative Hydro Critic Ralph Eichler said today. "They tied the hands of what they really can and cannot do."
He said that’s because Hydro, with the government’s blessing, had already spent $1.4 billion on the Keeyask dam prior to the PUB examining the need for the Nelson River dam.
The PUB said in a report released earlier this week that for it to recommend cancelling the dam, it would put Manitoba ratepayers on the hook for that loss.
Besides approving Keeyask, the board also approved a new transmission line to Minnesota, a line Hydro says it needs to export more power and to import power when required, like during a drought. The PUB also said that not another dime should be spend by Hydro or the province on Conawapa, a second proposed dam. The PUB said Hydro did not make a business case for the need for Conawapa, although Hydro has said it does not need a decision on Conawapa for four years.
The PUB made a total of 16 recommendations of which NDP Hydro Minister Stan Struthers said they will honour, including freezing spending on pre-construction work on Conawapa until Hydro can firm up more export deals with American utilities.
Eichler also said the PUB was correct to find that Hydro is in an inherent conflict of promoting energy efficiency while at the same time as building new dams and transmission lines to sell power.
The PUB said energy efficiency programs, administered through a new, independent entity, should be treated equally as power generation, be it hydro, wind, solar or something else.
"The ratepayers of Manitoba own Manitoba Hydro," he said. "We need to look at the best deal whether it be wind energy, dam energy, solar-powered energy. We need to be sure that that’s the best investment for Manitobans when we look at any of the increased projects and the revenue returns."
The PUB also said Hydro has to go beyond what it is already doing to contain internal costs as way to minimize future rate increases. Hydro has already signaled it will need annual rate increases of almost four per cent over the next 20 years to pay for Keeyask, the new U.S. transmission line, the already-approved Bipole III transmission to run down the west side of the province from northern Manitoba to Winnipeg, and to replaced or fix some its older infrastructure like replacing older wooden hydro poles throughout the province.
Eichler said the arm’s-length PUB needs to be given more accurate information, free of political inference from the NDP, to weigh the justification for potential rate hikes and to protect Manitobans.
"Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to want to give them the rein that they need to look after Manitoba Hydro in the way that it should be," Eichler said.