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Selinger on MPI and Bipole III

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This post features Premier Greg Selinger on this spring's Manitoba Public Insurance rebates  (on average $450, mailed out May 31) and the new estimate for Bipole III  ($3.28 billion from $2.24 billion).

We haven't heard much from Selinger on either, so here you go.

On MPI rebate:

Selinger said Friday there was no monkey business by his government, and in particular Attorney General Andrew Swan, who's responsible for MPI, in releasing information about the bigger rebate prior to the matter going before the Public Utilities Board.

The feeling among some is that typically, MPI files its annual rate applications to the public regulator in the summer. But because of the fixed-date Oct. 4 general election, campaign advertising laws will kick in about then, barring the government from joining in the rebate announcement.

Selinger: "We've always supported the principle that if there is a surplus there, as a result of this actuarial study, that the money should go back to the ratepayers and that the method of distribution be decided by the PUB itself," Selinger said.

I asked: "So there was no monkey business by your government to release the information first before it going to the PUB?"

Selinger replied: "No, it was the result of the actuarial study. They determined on a five-year look-back, that they had surplus resources for their requirements."

Me, on the economic impact to the province of that rebate money -- about $320 million -- to the province's economy:

"Presumably, it will be a boost the economy as well," Selinger said. "People will have more local purchasing power to deploy that money to meet their own needs. But the reality is that, and I think the PUB even said this, they commended MPI for taking the initiative to do this research, to do this work, to make a determination on what resources they needed and then when they found they had the surplus, the PUB required them to rebate it to the consumers, to the ratepayers."

On the new Bipole III estimate:

Me: "Are you happy with that estimate?"

Selinger: "Well, happy? I mean, it's clarity, it's more clarity. An independent group of experts took a look at it. They came up with a number. Hydro added an additional contingency to that that takes it over . . . they added a measure of prudence to it based on the number that came back.

"I think it adds greater certainty to the discussion now about what the cost of the bipole is. The biggest increase in the cost was the converters which are required regardless of which way the bipole goes.

"And the other point that (Bob) Brennan (Manitoba Hydro CEO and president) made was that this is amortized over 50 to 60 years. It's one of those costs that's absorbed in their capital program and doesn't have a big hit on consumers.

"And (Finance) Minister (Rosann) Wowchuk made the very important point that when they built Limestone, it provided export revenues that provided for the cost of the dam, and this will be the case here as well.

"The cost of the bipole will be built into the price of the product being sold to the customers to the south of us and to the west of us in the future. It will be paid by the customers, not by Manitoba ratepayers.

"Everybody recognizes that if we're going to be a preferred supplier of energy to the world we have to have a good reputation for our product. That reputation is on being reliable, affordable and clean energy as opposed to dirty energy, because that's really the dividing mark. Are you dirty energy or are you clean energy?

"The way we're building it is to ensure that we have a high quality reputation for the product as a clean energy provider. That's why the decision was made to take it away from the boreal forest, for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also to ensure that when people buy the product, they know that it's going to be a product that improves their environment.

"The current energy we ship to the customers that we have right now... reduces about nine million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. We want it to be seen that way.

"The other problem is that you got the same mentality that wanted to flood the north wants to go down the east side. And there's no debate about flooding anymore. You can make more megawatts if you flood, but everybody knows that's a loser."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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