Manitoba Hydro says it has launched its first public survey to assess future electricity use, but critics say it hints at a practice known as surge pricing.
Ratepayers are asked whether they expect to buy electrical cars, put solar panels on their roof, or would rather use their dryers or dishwashers at night if it meant their hydro bill would be lower.
“We encourage our customers to take a few minutes to complete the survey so we can hear what they think and begin an open discussion on our energy future,” said utility spokesman Bruce Owen on Wednesday.
“This is just a part of our planning as we look at what we provide and how we will do it better.”
Owen said since the survey began Nov. 1, the Crown corporation has received responses from more than 8,500 Manitobans as well as 40,000 comments. He said it takes 15 minutes to complete. The survey ends Dec. 17.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew worries the survey could help the utility approve measures Manitobans should be concerned about.
Kinew said he is opposed to time-varying rates — so-called surge pricing — in which electrical rates go up during the day and down in off hours.
“As it turns out, I took the survey this morning,” he said on Wednesday. “It seemed to be heavily focused on surge pricing.
“If you’re the average family, you will use electricity at peak times so your bill will go up. It’s also seasonal. You want to turn on the A/C in the summer, it will cost you more with surge pricing.”
Kinew said Manitoba electricity rates are already among the cheapest in North America so he doesn’t believe time varying rates are needed here.
“That’s why we have a public utility, to keep it affordable and keep it low.”
Byron Williams, who represents a coalition of consumer groups during proceedings before the Public Utilities Board, said the idea of having time-varying rates came up the PUB about a decade ago.
“But what has been missing for Manitobans to make an informed decision is what is the cost of the infrastructure necessary to implement these rates,” said Williams.
“Are we talking $300 million, $500 million, or more? And can the potential benefits of going to time-varying rates outweigh the significant costs of infrastructure? These are important threshold questions given the challenges that other jurisdictions have had in building infrastructure and implementing these rates for residential customers.
“Our clients are always open to evidence-based discussions on improving services to consumers but you cannot discuss the issue in theory without discussing the issue in economic reality.”
The survey can be accessed at hydro.mb.ca/future