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Regional viewpoint -- Hydro's expansion proposal puts our reasonable power rates at risk

If you know a Manitoban who knows more about Rob Ford’s crack cocaine videos and Kim Kardashian’s baby than Manitoba Hydro’s expansion plan, wake them up.

Grab a big pitcher of cold water, dump it on them, grab them by the collar, look them in the eye and yell “pay attention.” Well, maybe don’t be so dramatic about it, but you get the drift. Hydro’s proposal is arguably one of the most important issues facing Manitoba, but it hasn’t received nearly enough public scrutiny. The severity of Manitoba Hydro’s risky expansion proposal cannot be underscored enough.

Make no mistake, historically Manitoba Hydro has enjoyed a good reputation in Manitoba and even outside our province’s borders. Our power rates have been quite reasonable and reliability has been pretty good. But all that is in jeopardy.

Under Manitoba Hydro’s current proposal, rates will increase by four per cent each year for the next couple decades. Meanwhile, most Manitobans are lucky to see their paycheques go up by two per cent each year. So what will you cut in your budget? Going out for coffee with friends? Treats for the kids? If you’re a senior citizen on a fixed income you’ll especially feel the pinch.

Again, that’s if everything goes according to plan.

Many experts have noted hydro rates could actually triple if the plan falters. For example, what if the two new massive dams Hydro wants to build come in over budget? Why would that happen? The last one Hydro built, Wuskwatim, came in at double the cost.

The estimate for the two proposed hydro dams (and a massive power line to transport the power) is $22 billion. To put that in perspective, Manitoba’s entire provincial debt is about $31 billion.

La Capra, an expert company hired by the government itself, has already issued a damning report on Hydro’s plans, noting its economic case is “marginal” and they tended to “overstate costs” of alternative generating stations.

It seems Hydro and the provincial government are acting like a stereotypical grumpy old man who is stuck in his ways — “we’ve always done it this way and we’re going to keep doing it this way.”

But more and more it appears Hydro needs to switch gears — away from the traditional approach of building dams — and look more seriously at building a natural gas electricity plant.

Such a move may not only cost less to build and operate, the plant could protect Manitobans from being dependent on water-powered electricity when the next drought occurs.

If you can get your friends to pay attention to a single report on Hydro’s plans, it should be one coming out soon by an independent inquiry organized by the Bipole III Coalition (full disclosure, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is part of the coalition, but not this review process).

The non-partisan experts involved in that process include retired Manitoba Hydro executives, former deans of engineering at the University of Manitoba and a former top government employee who previously examined Hydro’s expansion plan. Their knowledge is immense on this issue and their intentions are pure; they, too, want reasonable hydro rates.

But forewarn your friends; the coalition’s report likely won’t say a word about Rob Ford or the Kardashians.

» Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 13, 2014

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If you know a Manitoban who knows more about Rob Ford’s crack cocaine videos and Kim Kardashian’s baby than Manitoba Hydro’s expansion plan, wake them up.

Grab a big pitcher of cold water, dump it on them, grab them by the collar, look them in the eye and yell “pay attention.” Well, maybe don’t be so dramatic about it, but you get the drift. Hydro’s proposal is arguably one of the most important issues facing Manitoba, but it hasn’t received nearly enough public scrutiny. The severity of Manitoba Hydro’s risky expansion proposal cannot be underscored enough.

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If you know a Manitoban who knows more about Rob Ford’s crack cocaine videos and Kim Kardashian’s baby than Manitoba Hydro’s expansion plan, wake them up.

Grab a big pitcher of cold water, dump it on them, grab them by the collar, look them in the eye and yell “pay attention.” Well, maybe don’t be so dramatic about it, but you get the drift. Hydro’s proposal is arguably one of the most important issues facing Manitoba, but it hasn’t received nearly enough public scrutiny. The severity of Manitoba Hydro’s risky expansion proposal cannot be underscored enough.

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