Posted: 01/3/2019

The Public Utilities Board has rejected a bid by Manitoba Hydro to raise electricity rates twice in less than a year without a full-scale hearing.

In late November, Hydro filed an expedited application for a 3.5 per cent rate increase that would take effect April 1. The rate hike application followed a June 2018 decision by the PUB to allow Hydro to raise its rates by 3.6 per cent.

Hydro argued it needed the additional revenue to help it manage high capital and debt costs related to the Bipole III transmission line and Keeyask generating station construction. To meet the April 1 deadline, Hydro asked the PUB to limit the involvement of intervenors and significantly shorten public hearings.

However, in an order released Thursday, the PUB told Hydro it was not willing to expedite the application process.

Instead, the board said it was approving both the involvement of three intervenors and limited public hearings.

"The board finds that fairness requires that interveners have the right to participate in the testing of Manitoba Hydro's evidence and in presenting evidence on the issues within the scope of this (general rate application)," the PUB said in its order.

According to an application process schedule released by the PUB, a final decision on Hydro's current rate application will be pushed back until late May or early June.

A Hydro spokesman said Thursday the Crown corporation is weighing the news: "While we’re still assessing the impact of the PUB’s order, Manitoba Hydro, as always, will abide by its terms and timelines."

Lawyer Byron Williams, who represents a coalition involving the Manitoba branch of the Consumers Association of Canada and Winnipeg Harvest, said the PUB made the right decision in rebuffing Hydro's request for an expedited process.

When Manitoba Hydro is seeking a $59-million rate increase, it should not expect a free ride from the public or the Public Utilities Board," Williams said. "The PUB procedural order recognizes that ratepayers and Hydro itself are best served by a rigorous review process.