Hydro customers still waiting for compensation 18 months after incident damaged appliances, furnaces

In the middle of a bitterly cold January night in 2019, East St. Paul resident Brian Hayward woke with a start at the sound of "a really loud bang."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/08/2020 (884 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the middle of a bitterly cold January night in 2019, East St. Paul resident Brian Hayward woke with a start at the sound of “a really loud bang.”

His power was off — along with that of 3,000 other Manitoba Hydro customers in the area. The lights would be restored four hours later.

What became apparent to Hayward and many of his neighbours in the hours and days that followed is that they had suffered more than a temporary loss of power.

Brian Hayward spent $2,300 to have various appliances and other electrical devices fixed after a power surge in January 2019. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press)

A power surge had ruined household appliances, blown furnaces, knocked out floor heaters and left burn marks around electrical outlets. Even surge protectors got fried, some residents claimed.

Hayward found that his ceramic-top induction stove didn’t work. He would eventually discover other damage as well — to a hot tub and a bathroom floor heater. All told, it cost him about $2,300 to have everything fixed.

Manitoba Hydro urged customers who believed a power surge damaged their electronic equipment to call its claims number or contact their insurance company. About 250 customers, including Hayward, filed claims with Hydro.

They’re still waiting for compensation, and the Crown corporation isn’t guaranteeing that they’ll ever get it.

Hayward, a businessman and former grain company executive, is appalled.

“I actually find it irresponsible and bizarre,” he said in an interview this week.

When he called the number Hydro provided, he said he was told to repair his appliances and forward copies of his bills, which he did a few months later.

Since then, despite numerous emails and phone calls with Hydro officials, including president and CEO Jay Grewal, he has yet to receive any satisfaction.

Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said no compensation has been paid yet as a “technical review and investigation” of the power surge is ongoing.

Asked if anyone will be compensated, he said via email: “We can’t speculate on that at this point, as the investigation is ongoing.”

Nor would Owen divulge the total value of the 250 damage claims the corporation has received, saying it was “inappropriate” to discuss that while the probe continues.

Initially, Hydro said the power outage and surge had been triggered by a downed power line touching another line at Gateway Road and Pritchard Farm Road.

This week, the company attributed the outage to “an unexpected equipment failure, which likely resulted in the surge for some customers.”

An insulator on a power line failed, Owen said. He would not identify its manufacturer.

Brian Hayward was one of 250 people to put in claims with Manitoba Hydro after the power surge. Hydro says the investigation is still ongoing. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press)

“We’re waiting for the investigation to conclude before making any decisions (regarding compensation),” the company spokesman said. “We appreciate that this long timeline is frustrating for our customers, and we’re pushing to have this investigation concluded as quickly as possible so we can notify our customers as to the status of their claims.”

Hayward, who heads a company that advises Canadian and international clients on corporate governance, strategy and business development, said he doesn’t understand Hydro’s stance.

Either it should take responsibility for the damage and compensate its customers or it should press the manufacturer for damages on their behalf, he said.

Hayward said he did not pursue a claim through his home insurance because it appeared initially that Hydro was prepared to compensate customers for their losses. He has since switched insurance providers.

Describing himself “as a dog with a bone,” Hayward said he will continue to hound the utility.

“I’m doing this because I think it’s right, not because I’m worrying about the 2,300 bucks,” he said.

“Who else is getting screwed here?”

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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