The Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party and its new Leader, Brian Pallister, are asking that the rates that Manitobans pay for their hydro be frozen pending an independent review of the Crown Corporation’s capital projects being planned and directed by the NDP government.
The next increase of hydro rates is expected on September 1st, a 2.5% increase in the amount that Manitobans pay for their hydroelectric power. It is just another in a long line of increases that are coming to pay for $18 billion in capital projects that are being directed in large part by the NDP government. To pay for these capital projects it is expected that hydro rates are going to have to increase by at least 45% between now and 2021.
It is important to remember that the additional debt and rate increases are paid for by Manitobans. Manitobans own our hydro utility company. It needs to remain a publicly owned company and it needs to be able to operate without interference by the NDP government. As it is, the mismanagement of the NDP has helped to balloon the debt of Manitoba Hydro and the new capital projects, including the inflated cost of Bi-Pole III, will increase the debt of Manitoba Hydro to $27 billion. To put that in perspective, it will mean that the debt of Hydro will be equal to the debt of the province as a whole.
And make no mistake, these are not separate debts owed by different people. Both the provincial debt and the debt of Manitoba Hydro are the responsibility of Manitobans and they get paid for by higher hydro rates or higher taxes or both. That is why the time to stop the rate increases and have an independent review of the capital plans is now. The reality is that much has changed over the past few years, not the least of which is the changing demand for power from the United States as a result of the economic downturn and the very slow return to grow by our largest hydro export customer.
It is no doubt one of the reasons that the Public Utilities Board has also called for an economic review of Hydro’s capital projects. They know that the enormous debt that these projects will add come with risk if they are not planned and evaluated properly and are free from political direction and manipulation.
There is no harm in the review. In fact, only benefits can come from it. Manitoba Hydro needs to be a strong publicly owned company that operates free from political interference and influence. Conducting an independent review of its capital plans is a big step in achieving that goal and will help protect all Manitoba ratepayers