Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Manitoba Hydro. It's All About the Money

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Recently, the Winnipeg Free Press asked readers the following question."Would you approve of Manitoba Hydro using "Smart Meter Technology" to run (read "take over") your furnace, hot water heater and air conditioner remotely?Of the 1,601 respondents, 512 said yes. Turn off my furnace anytime you feel it is to your benefit. Hot water? Who needs hot water? Turn off my utilities anytime you want, without my consent, and sell my electricity to the Americans. I fully understand that this course of action will not benefit me now or in the future.1089 people said no, I don't trust the Manitoba Government to do what is best for me. I also won't be fooled if you try telling me that smart meters will be installed to save the planet from greenhouse gases. I rather think the scheme will enhance Government coffers.Some time ago the Quebec Government asked their people if they would fall for this scheme. They said no.Ottawa Hydro then said it would test smart meters in the Province of Ontario. They tested so well that the utility told customers in September 2006 that the people are getting smart meters and that the customer would have to pay for the devices.  These smart meters will bill the customers different rates at different times of the day. For example, in Ontario, electricity in the middle of the night is 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour but at 2 in the afternoon that rate jumps to 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour. If you want your furnace on in the middle of the afternoon when it is -40 C. that's just too bad. Smart meters are to be installed in all Ontario homes by 2010. The trick was to coerce encourage the Ontario consumers into using electricity when they can't use it because they have to sleep. This can be a darn hard job if they couldn't control them with a smart meter. This would be the meter that they forced their customers to buy for Ottawa Hydro in the first place. (Source, Toronto Sun, column by Linda Leatherdale Apr. 13, 2006)The Manitoba Government wants a piece of that action. On April 17th of this year, the government announced that Manitoba Hydro had signed a contract (they call it a "term sheet" in newspeak) to sell 500 megawatts of power to the state of Wisconsin starting in 2018, and the agreement will stay in place until 2033. (Source, Manitoba Government News release April 17th , 2008)So where is Manitoba Hydro going to get this extra electricity? I'll tell you later in this blog but here is a hint. (Source, Manitoba Government News Release April 17th, 2008)In a little while, say about 10 years from now, you are going to need lots and lots of batteries. Is there an electric car in your future? Probably not, because in about 10 years you may not be able to afford to keep an electric clock running. In that same April 17th news release, officials stated that the sale of power to Wisconsin would ensure that hydro here would be able to maintain low domestic energy rates.Imagine our shock when, only three months later, we found that our own dear Mr. Doer had told us a fib. Not only were our hydro rates increased, they are going up almost 10% in a 2 year period! The government also said that the Wisconsin sale will lessen the production of greenhouse gases in the United States. I'll just bet that the foreign greenhouse gases were the NDP's primary concern and not the 5.5 billion dollars the government stands to make. Will you complain after the Manitoba Government makes the changes they say are necessary for our well being? Probably not. You will be too darn tired to complain after getting up in the middle of the night to do your laundry when electrical rates are low.Predictably, the NDP will say that they didn't raise hydro rates and that they have no control over the Public Utilities Board.Ah yes, the Utilities Board. This is a collection of former MLA members, civil servants and even a former Manitoba Government Union representative. I will list these people at the end of this blog because I don't want to bore you here. I do not believe that the utilities board are far enough removed from the influence of government to pretend to be impartial. (Well, not without laughing anyway.) These board members are appointed for life. Are you scared yet?At present we sell power to the state of Minnesota and the contract is  scheduled for renewal in 2020. That deal is for 250 megawatts.Northern Ontario is also slated as a customer to consume a higher percentage of our electricity. At the present time Manitoba has a 40% surplus generating ability over our consumption rate and it seems that we will have to get more electrical energy someplace else.Here is a list of new projects along with their calculated generating capabilities.These figures total the projected generation over a one year period. Wuskwatim 1500 GWH, Keeyask 4400 GWH, Notigi 750 GWH, Wind Power 800 GWH, Conawapa 7000 GWH, Improvements to older Hydro equipment 350 GWH Demand Side Management 1767 GWHNow do you know how much they expect you to cut back on demand for electricity? Demand Side Management simply means hydro expects to control or manage your home and make you consume less power.Manitoba Hydro itself forecasts that the smart meters will force you to use 1767 gigawatts per year less power in the future. (Source, undated Manitoba Water Power bulletin by Manitoba Hydro.)Hydro approached ITRON, a company in the United States which produces advanced metering technology in June 2006. Itron was requested to prepare a fact sheet to facilitate placing their Smart Grid Communications system for all of Manitoba Hydro's 500,000 electric and 250,000 gas customers. Itron responded that it was capable of providing a computerized system that would include flexible rates, time of use rates along with load control and remote electrical service disconnects. (Source, ITRON News Bulletin, Spokane Washington, June 29, 2006.)Notice that their focus is on the control of you, the Manitoba consumer. In a country like Canada, where you own the resources, the NDP and Manitoba Hydro is preparing to sell what is rightfully your resource, for money. They obviously plan to frugalize you right into the frozen darkness in order to keep their legal commitment to our American friends and fellow Canadians in Ontario. Of course, don't forget that the NDP has 5.5 billion other reasons to go through with this plan.In the meantime the NDP are waving the environmental Flag to prove that their plan is moral and ethical and will help save the earth. There is not much mention of the monetary gain or what they plan to do with the money. I doubt if they will lower hydro rates in the future or they just might have mentioned it.The conclusion? Purely this scheme is nothing but a vehicle to facilitate a tax increase on behalf of the Manitoba Government.I spoke with Mr. Harold Montzka who lives in the state of Minnesota. He received his smart meter about 10 years ago. Here is what he had to say."Well, we certainly didn't have to purchase our meters. There would have been hell to pay were that the case. Here is how it works down here. There are peak times of electrical demand and the power company has to keep that peak below certain values. I felt that it would be a win-win situation to sign up for a smart meter. For example, our regular rate is 9.6 per kilowatt hour. However, this is the summer rate from June to August inclusive. After signing for a smart meter, the control of my water heater, heating and air conditioner is turned over to the programming of the smart meter by the electrical company. When the company detects a raising consumption of overall power they may first turn off my water heater. In the morning they turn it back on between 5 and 6 A.M. That water heater has a higher capacity and I got a grant from the power company to help buy it. Later, about nine o'clock they warm up the water again. Heating and air conditioning may go off during peak demand but never for more than half an hour. When my family felt we had some control over this business we were more at ease with it. We also save a little money."I wonder if people in Ontario are now at ease with smart meters? Now that Manitoba consumers are in for a dramatic tax increase will we ever be happy about that? I really don't trust the government where billions of dollars are concerned.

About the Public Utilities Board

First the Prime Minister chooses the Lieutenant Governors for the Provinces. MP John Harvard is the one chosen for Manitoba. Mr. Harvard appoints Utility Board Members as they are needed. There is no expiry of terms and there are 8 members. As follows;1.   Graham Lane. Chairman. Chartered accountant. Previously served as senior executive of crown corporations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.2.   Len Evans. Mr. Evans was an MLA for Brandon for 30 years. First vice-president of the Association of Former MLAs.3.   Monica Girouard. Ms. Girouard is a certified General Accountant who works for the Manitoba Government Employees Union.4. Eric Jorgensen. Employed as a Business Agent for the General Teamsters Union. Treasurer of Association of Industrial Economic Development and Manitoba Training.5. Kathi Kinew. Researcher, policy analyst and facilitator for First Nations.6. Robert Mayer. Lawyer in Thompson, Manitoba. President of Northern bar association. Former member of Legal Aid and Communities Economic Development Fund and the Manitoba Telephone System.7. Susan Proven. Former member of the Public Utilities Board. Former CBC reporter. Elected to the Board of Directors of the Manitoba Rural Adaption Council (MRAC)8. Alain Molgat. Partner in a public accounting Firm specializing in Aboriginal and non-profit sectors. Formerly was a board member of the Assiniboine Credit Union.Remember the last time whe citizens of Manitoba got really angry over proposed increases to Autopac which would increase our insurance rates?Remember how fast the Goverment rethought their position and decreased rates?I'll bet we can negotiate a better deal with Hydro. Maybe it is time to take a stand again.                                                       -30-

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