In addition to the management of a massive Crown corporation — and all of the political issues that go with that — Jay Grewal, the CEO of Manitoba Hydro, is also in the process of shepherding the utility into a new global energy landscape.
On the same day General Motors said it will go all-electric by 2035, Grewal said the utility is well positioned to take advantage of the global decarbonization efforts.
In a virtual appearance at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event that was rescheduled from last year after the pandemic ended public gatherings last year, Grewal’s talk was to be about how strong leadership can positively impact businesses.
But the first woman to lead Manitoba Hydro — she’s approaching two years as CEO — made it clear the utility’s long-term planning process, Strategy 2040, is accounting for the role Manitoba Hydro’s clean energy will have in the global effort to battle climate change.
"The mission statement is to help all Manitobans leverage their clean dependable energy advantage while ensuring safe, clean, reliable energy at the lowest possible cost," she said.
In addition to the fact that Manitoba Hydro customers will not incur carbon tax, something that will have significant competitive advantages in the years to come, she said there is a conceptual shift in the thinking about domestic supply and surplus.
She said the lowest possible cost of energy for Manitobans will continue to be paramount — Manitoba continues to have the second-lowest electricity rates in the country, only slightly higher than Quebec’s — in the long-term planning process that is underway at Manitoba Hydro, adding surplus power does not automatically mean it’s destined for the export market. She did note, however, that were it not for the $470 million in export revenue Manitoba Hydro earned last year, domestic rates might have been 20 per cent higher than they are.
"We will ensure we get the maximum value from every surplus electron not needed domestically," she said. "That means we may use surplus differently going forward, whether that means green hydrogen…"
For instance, Hydro-Québec is in the process of building a water electrolysis plant that will create "green" hydrogen that will be used for biofuel.
She said the push towards electrification of transportation is not just about electric cars, but for the movement of goods that could mean a re-imagining of what highways look like.
"Right now electricity is regulated provincially," she said. "If that moves to a broader multi-provincial dynamic how does that work? How do you plan for that?"
She said there are important economic development opportunities for Manitoba Hydro’s green dependable energy, including how it can be used to transform it into something else like green hydrogen.
In addition to managing the utility through the pandemic and coming up with a system that allow two-thirds of its 5,400 employees to work remotely, Grewal said she realized she also has to deal with a perception or concern about the Crown corporation being privatized.
"Let me categorically restate once again… Manitoba Hydro is not being privatized," she said. "I hope that will be the last time I need to have this conversation on that topic with anybody."
That is unlikely going to be the case.
Adrien Sala, the NDP’s critic on the Manitoba Hydro file, said, "Actions speaker louder than words. The Pallister government privatized Teshmont, a profitable subsidiary of Hydro. They put a stop/sell order on Manitoba Hydro International. These are the actions of a government that’s privatizing Manitoba Hydro. We’re going to keep drawing attention to the PC’s plan and keep fighting for lower rates for Manitoba families."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.