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Manitoba Hydro vs. The Whistleblower: Chapter 602

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A notice from the Manitoba's Public Utilities Board landed on our desks late Monday afternoon.

It provided an update on where things are at with Hydro's 2010-11 and 2011-12 general rate application (GRA) and the upcoming hearings that include a review of Hydro's financial risks and risk management.

The public hearing starts in early January.

The PUB's news release was only five paragraphs long and didn't contain a lot of new information.

The good stuff is found on the PUB's website, a PDF of Order No. 95/10.

It basically lays out the game plan for how the PUB hearing is dealing with requests from Hydro and the Whistleblower, referred to as the New York Consultant (NYC), to keep confidential certain documents and information.

The PUB says after reviewing the requests, various approved risk reports, by Hydro, the NYC and KPMG (which did its own independent review), are to be put on the public record Sept. 27.

Order No. 95/10 also contained this:

"The Board notes that the NYC has not provided a written submission supporting its proposed redactions in the MH reports or the KPMG report and appendices. Further, the NYC provided its public document, meant to replace the NYC risk reports, as the public filing available in the GRA process in a redacted form. The Board has not been provided with an unredacted version of the NYC public document.

"Without receiving a formal submission by the NYC, the Board is unable to record, for purposes of this Order, any specific points or principles specifically advanced by the NYC which ground the NYC's rationale for its claim of confidentiality regarding its extensive redactions of all of the reports at issue."

The NYC has said she does not want certain information released at the hearing because it would harm her consultation business. She's threatened to sue if it does.

Here's the PUB again, in Order 95/10:

"The NYC has used the term "reverse engineering" in various exchanges with the Board and its counsel, which the Board takes as reference to the possibility that access to NYC's information may allow competitors, in the NYC's industry, to gain a financial advantage and cause the NYC financial harm, by the competitor working back from the alleged proprietary information in the reports. The NYC has said numerous times that it will suffer severe harm and significant financial loss if the redacted information is placed on the public record.

"Beyond general assertions however, no detailed explanation of cause and effect from NYC has been provided. While the Board requested such explanation, and provided the NYC with time lines and fee budgets, NYC was unable to provide the information within the approved timelines."

Manitoba Hydro also wants PUB to keep certain information confidential, specifically in how it negotiates power deals, and the PUB for the most part agreed as it could, "cause undue financial loss to MH or to harm significantly MH's competitive position" if it became public.

"The Board also accepts that MH's strategies in the competitive electricity supply market, if made known could jeopardize MH's position in the market. The Board also notes that with regard to specific term sheet negotiations, MH is bound by confidentiality agreements with counter parties.

It is not commercially viable to force MH to breach these agreements, or to ignore them in this context."

What does all of this mean?

It means that the PUB, while acknowledging the value of the NYC's participation, isn't prepared to wait any longer in getting the hearing underway.

What role, if any, the Whistleblower will play is unclear.

"It is of significance to the Board in making its decision that the original NYC reports do not contain formulae, any detailed explanation of NYC's methodology, nor any software or hard copy data respecting software details or outputs generated by the NYC for MH. This finding does not infer that the NYC's conclusions are not valid, simply that the supporting detail is by and large not contained in the NYC Reports."

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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