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The $16-billion question

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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.

 Why?

 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.

 

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

 

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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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