A coalition of Manitoba Hydro customers is urging the public utilities watchdog to order a hearing on power rates after the Crown utility refused to provide financial forecast information.
"Manitoba Hydro must share up-to-date financial information with customers to ensure that electricity rate increases are fair and based in evidence," the coalition that includes Harvest Manitoba, the Consumers’ Association of Canada (Manitoba) and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, said in a statement Thursday.
On March 26 it asked Manitoba’s independent regulator, the Public Utilities Board, to order a review of Manitoba Hydro’s current rates, arguing substantial changes at Hydro, including major new export sales to Saskatchewan and the operation of the $8-billion Keeyask generating station, warrant public scrutiny.
The board agreed, and on May 10 ordered Hydro to provide versions of the 20-year integrated financial forecast, capital expenditure forecast and the prospective cost of service study currently in use in the operations and management of the utility. It also asked for this year’s and next fiscal year’s forecast of net export revenue and net income for a number of possible water flow conditions.
Manitoba Hydro claimed it did not have a current forecast and did not provide the prospective cost of service study or next year’s forecast of net export revenue and net income for a number of water flow scenarios.
"In all the years we’ve been participating in Manitoba Hydro proceedings, there has almost always been an integrated financial forecast," said Gloria Desorcy, executive director of the Consumers’ Association of Canada (Manitoba).
"It’s just surprising to us that those documents are not in existence according to the response of Manitoba Hydro," she said Friday.
The provincially-owned power company’s failure to provide the information requested by the regulator "should be considered an implicit admission that there has been a substantial change in circumstances," the Consumers Coalition statement said. There has not been a full hearing into the rates it charges customers for three years, leaving consumers in the dark about its financial health, it noted.
In fall 2020, the provincial government introduced legislation that raised electricity rates by 2.9 per cent, bypassing the usual practice of PUB hearings and approval. The coalition said Manitoba Hydro rates for First Nation residential customers on reserve have risen by more than nine per cent since Sept. 1, raising concerns of rate shock.
It urged the PUB, "in the interests of transparency and accountability," to arrange a hearing to determine whether Manitoba Hydro’s current rates are just and reasonable.
There are a number of actions that the Public Utilities Board could take regarding Hydro. It could rule that Hydro’s response is adequate, that there is no substantial change in circumstances or it could deem it inadequate and order a hearing.
The board could also issue a subpoena to compel Hydro to produce certain documents or initiate proceedings to determine whether Hydro is in contempt of the PUB order.