The Public Utilities Board has again ordered Manitoba Hydro to hand over financial data, saying it still has no clue whether the electricity rates set by the Pallister government are justified.
"The board directs a public process be held through which Manitoba Hydro is to provide additional evidence," reads Tuesday's order.
On two occasions this year, the PCs have imposed hydro rates using legislation rather than though a review by the regulator.
Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton would not give an interview Tuesday.
The ruling stems from a request last March by the Consumers Coalition, an advocacy group that was subsequently joined by First Nations grand chiefs and a group that represents industrial power users.
The advocacy group is concerned it has been three years since Hydro has been subject to an in-depth hearing on rates.
The PUB says that during those three years, Hydro "has effectively doubled the size of its assets and debts for rate-setting purposes" and thus should face a full hearing.
Hydro provided some data in response to a May order from the PUB, but the board says it needs more detailed information to account for things like Bipole III coming into service, changes in electricity use during the pandemic, changes in water flows caused by the drought, and the impact of new transmission lines to Saskatchewan and Minnesota.
The PUB has bemoaned "the absence of a long-term financial forecast" and says Hydro has sent it "conflicting evidence" that makes it impossible to set rates in order "to reduce the likelihood of future rate shock to consumers."
The PC government has tabled legislation to wrest the rate-setting power from the PUB for five years.
In the new order, the PUB says it must consider testimony from Hydro CEO Jay Grewal on June 29 that the utility requires a higher rate increase than what the government has set, in part because it’s borrowing money to cover maintenance costs.
The PUB has given interveners until Aug. 31 to outline what type of information they feel Hydro must provide, and then the utility has two weeks to issue a response to those proposals. The PUB will start formal talks with both parties, and determine what information the Crown corporation must provide.
"It's a pretty clear rebuke of the direction the PCs have taken," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
Wharton had a terse response: "We anticipate the panel will meet promptly to determine next steps and we will continue to monitor closely."
Kinew said that is "a nothing-burger of a statement" that does not explain why Hydro is being so opaque.
There has got to be an examination to see whether Manitobans are paying too much for their Hydro bill, because of the lack of transparency of the last few years.
The PCs repeatedly accuse the NDP of mismanaging Hydro, saying billions were spent without a clear economic rationale — but they refuse to acknowledge the revenue that has come from projects launched by the former NDP government.
"Being able to see details around the export sales of Hydro to other jurisdictions will paint a picture of a healthier Manitoba Hydro, that would undermine the PCs' political story," Kinew argued.