For 30 years, an undetermined number of bureaucrats gnawed away in the offices of Manitoba Hydro, under the Power Smart program. Well-intentioned souls, they dreamed up ways to “save” Manitobans money by using less hydro. There were window, door and insulation programs. There were programs to retire your old fridge and to install new hot water tanks, furnaces, light bulbs and solar power generating systems. The program was well regarded and there is no doubt it had an influence on the installation of a lot of the above items. Some items involved a grant, such as the “old fridge” program, and some were financed by low interest loans.
The program was entirely wrong-headed for Manitoba Hydro. While Power Smart may have “saved” people some money, it cost Hydro and the taxpayers millions. Hydro is supposed to sell power, to make money for operations, to pay the interest on its huge debt and to eventually pay down the debt. Why on earth would they invest borrowed money into helping people use less electricity? It makes no sense. If it did, then car dealers would subsidize not buying cars, grocery chains would subsidize not buying food and pet food companies would encourage people get rid of their cats.
Hydro’s aim in life should be to sell as much power as they can, so that all the costs listed above can be covered. Clearly, it can be argued that Hydro at times have had more workers than they needed. But, that aside, Hydro should be selling as much power as it can within Manitoba and for export. They certainly shouldn’t have built a west side Bi-Pole III line and they certainly shouldn’t have entered into the Metis bribe scheme, that has fortunately been cancelled. The first move cost Hydro (and you and I) a billion dollars that was totally wasted and the second deal would have cost $60 million over a number of years.
Back to Power Smart. The question remains, why would Hydro take money from scarce profits to pay people to use less power, especially when there has never been a power shortage or “brown-outs”, and when they were building more dams and transmission capacity. Alternatively, and to use an extreme example, Hydro should be encouraging people to run their water tanks hotter and their air conditioners colder. Maybe they could encourage people to run their fridges with the door open in July. The Power Smart program was well-intentioned, but it was largely a waste of Hydro’s money and a misplaced effort.
Power Smart has been replaced by Efficiency Manitoba with a whole new corporation, complete with a board, a CEO, staff and so far, few programs. That’s a good thing. The fewer programs EM has, the less it’s going to cost Manitobans. Recently, EM sent out a 12 page flyer that won’t cost Manitobans very much, as it basically says, use LED light bulbs. The flyer encourages people to buy light bulbs at a spring discount, presumably subsidized by us all through EM.
As I said above, Power Smart and EM are likely well-intentioned, but highly misplaced in their actions. The government of Manitoba might want to encourage people to save money on their Hydro bills, but they should not be investing money in light bulb purchases. Why should one taxpayer pay for another taxpayer to insulate their home, buy more efficient hot water tanks or windows? Should such purchases not have self-evident value without a taxpayer funded subsidy?
Voting decisions are a funny thing. No one political party completely aligns with an individual’s views. It’s a calculated compromise when you cast your vote. So as much as the current PC government is more aligned with my political choices than the other parties, they still are doing things that I can’t agree with. One of those things is Efficiency Manitoba.
Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.