Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rebate surprises Hydro customer

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PINAWA business owner Donna Warenko is thinking about taking a winter holiday to Mexico after realizing she won't have to pay to heat her home this winter.

Warenko has a credit of more than $1,700 with Manitoba Hydro after she found out she had been paying too much PST on her hydro bills.

And not just for a short while, but for the past 17 years.

As someone who heats her home with electricity, Warenko qualified for a break on provincial sales tax on her hydro bill. The PST rate for such customers is 1.4 per cent, instead of the regular seven per cent.

"I had no idea that I wasn't supposed to be (paying 7 per cent)," Warenko told the Free Press this past week.

She didn't realize the error until she saw a reminder about the tax break in a legislature report in her local paper by Conservative MLA Gerald Hawranik (PC -- Lac du Bonnet).

"It was really just luck, because I almost never read it," she said of the MLA's report.

Warenko got on the phone to Manitoba Hydro, which quickly rectified the problem. The Crown corporation calculated that it owed her $1,747.46, which was credited to her account.

"Probably for me, a year's free hydro. Pretty nice, eh?" Warenko said in a telephone interview.

Glenn Schneider, a Manitoba Hydro spokesman, said he doesn't think there are a lot of customers in Warenko's situation.

"We have had these things come to our attention, and we fix them and make sure that they're billed at the proper rate. But it's not a widespread problem," he said Tuesday.

Schneider said the corporation can typically detect customers who use electric heat by their usage patterns. There is no PST on home heating fuel in Manitoba, he said. The 1.4 per cent PST that Hydro charges is for non-heating electrical consumption.

Most customers who use electric heat are from rural Manitoba and away from natural gas lines, although there are such clients in Winnipeg as well, Schneider said.

Hawranik said he knows of at least a half-dozen constituents who have learned they've been overcharged for PST after reading his article, but Warenko's experience is the most striking.

The Tory MLA said Hydro and the Selinger government should do more to publicize the tax break. "There should be a public awareness campaign throughout the province," he said.

Warenko isn't sure who's at fault for her not knowing the tax rules. But she's glad to have the rebate, which she figures will be enough to heat her home this winter -- or for she and her husband to take a short vacation to Mexico.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2009 A4

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