The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) is calling on Manitoba Hydro to roll back its challenge against an order to freeze electricity rates for First Nations communities in the province.
A month ago the Public Utilities Board (PUB) ruled Hydro must create an “On Reserve First Nations” customer class with no rate increase for the coming year to deal with what it calls energy poverty.
Now the Crown corporation is challenging the order, a move Grand Chief Arlen Dumas calls “unfortunate.”
“The Public Utilities Board’s decision to create a new First Nations on-reserve rate was an important step towards alleviating energy poverty,” he said. “At a time when Manitoba Hydro and governments are constantly talking about reconciliation, it’s unfortunate that they would try to overturn this important decision.
“AMC is calling on Hydro to withdraw its application to stay the PUBs order, and is considering all of its legal options to protect the order.”
Hydro argues the utilities board does not have the legal authority to make this kind of ruling.
According to the Manitoba Hydro Act, the rates charged for power supplied to a class of grid customers “shall be the same throughout the province.”
Scott Powell, director of corporate communications for Manitoba Hydro, said the PUB is possibly ordering the Crown corporation to do something illegal.
“We understand the case for energy poverty. We understand it’s an issue. But that isn’t the issue for us in this particular case,” he said, adding it’s a jurisdictional and legal issue.
“I don’t think any one of our customers would expect us to operate outside the law.”
A panel will now be put in place to resolve the dispute.
If Hydro is unsuccessful it can go to court.
The board’s ruling from May 1 increased rates by 3.6 per cent on average, less than the 7.9 per cent requested by Hydro.
At the time, Hydro said it’s projecting debt levels of up to $27 billion.
-With files from The Canadian Press