The damage of a recent leaked Manitoba Hydro document on the cost of Bipole III goes beyond just the political potshots.
The document, leaked to Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, shows Manitoba Hydro officials knew in 2009 the estimated cost of the new high-voltage transmission line had gone up to $3.95 billion from its original estimated cost of $2.24 billion two years earlier.
But, as was heard during Public Utilities Board hearing this past week, top Hydro officials didn’t put any stock in the higher number, and it ostensibly went no further.
Instead, Hydro and the Selinger government continued to publicly say the cost of Bipole was $2.2 billion.
Even on the first day the PUB hearing, examining Hydro’s request to increase rates, Hydro VP and CFO Vince Warden told the panel the cost of Bipole was $2.2 billion.
But then the document was leaked.
The Winnipeg Free Press posted it, a PDF version, on its website.
Someone at the PUB downloaded it. It’s now an exhibit at the rate hearing.
Simply, the PUB wants to know what’s really going on inside Hydro.
How can it make an educated decision on Hydro’s request for a rate increase when it may not be getting the full picture of the Crown corporation’s plan to spend $16 billion over the next decade, on Bipole and northern dams?
If the cost of Bipole has doubled, shouldn’t the PUB know?
More curious, Hydro’s VP of transmission was Ed Tymofichuk and VP of power supply Ken Adams signed off on the new estimate Sept. 10, 2009.
But when it went higher up the Hydro chain, it was decided it would go no further.
"Well, the amount was astounding," Warden told the PUB in explanation. "I -- I was shocked."
Hydro president Bob Brennan has said the $3.95 billion number is "ridiculous", and that an expert review was ordered to get a more exact estimate on the line’s cost. We’ll know what it is in a month.
That’s all well and good.
Because it’s not just about politics and McFadyen’s push to build the line down the east side of the province instead of the longer west-side route.
It’s about Hydro’s credibility.