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Manitoba Hydro has served notice it intends to boost First Nations on-reserve residential electricity rates by 6.6 per cent, effective Aug. 1, but the Crown corporation's regulator says: not so fast.
Hydro wrote to the Public Utilities Board on June 23, saying it would eliminate the First Nation on-reserve residential (FNORR) customer class, after the Manitoba Court of Appeal ruled the PUB had "exceeded its jurisdiction" by creating it in 2018.
While First Nations customers had their rates frozen at 2017 levels, most residential Manitoba customers in 2018 saw a 4.04 per cent increase — instead of what would have been a 3.92 per cent hike without the FNORR freeze.
It was estimated at the time the new rate class would save First Nations residents about $2 million a year.
In its letter, Hydro told the PUB it would not seek to retroactively recover the estimated $5.5 million in forgone revenues from FNORR customers for the 2018-19 to 2020-21 fiscal years, "As doing so would increase the financial impacts experienced by these customers."
It said FNORR customers would now pay the same rates as other residential users.
In a five-page response Monday, the PUB directed Manitoba Hydro to answer a series of questions — including how the increase to FNORR customers would affect the Crown corporation's overall revenues — before it granted its request.
The PUB noted the law requires it to review rates for services provided by Hydro, and prohibits the corporation from implementing any changes in rates for services or any new rates without its approval.
It asked Hydro to respond to its questions by July 20, to permit groups granted intervener status in past rate-setting hearings to respond by July 27.
On Monday, Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said the Crown corporation was still assessing the PUB request and had no comment at this time.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the new rate schedule proposed by Hydro "is not reasonable, as it unjustly impacts First Nations customers."
"Manitoba Hydro's proposed rate increase to First Nations on-reserve customers will add revenue to Manitoba Hydro over and above what was approved by the PUB at the last rate hearing on the backs of First Nations customers," Dumas said in a statement to the Free Press.
He also noted the recent Manitoba Court of Appeal decision "does not simply allow Manitoba Hydro to automatically apply rate schedules at their whim."
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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