Federal funds to cut Hydro's own bill for efficiency programs

·3 min read

The nearly $65 million in funding poured into Efficiency Manitoba by the federal and provincial governments will result in no expansion of the programs offered by the Crown corporation, but rather a lower bill for Manitoba Hydro.

Under the Progressive Conservative government, Hydro was relieved of the role it played in trying to improve energy efficiency at homes, businesses and industrial sites across the province.

In lieu, Efficiency Manitoba was established as an arm’s-length Crown corporation that could pursue the same tasks with a smaller workforce and smaller budget, of approximately $69.9 million annually.

In January, the province held a news conference trumpeting the arrival of federal funding to support Efficiency Manitoba through the federal Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund. Manitoba lagged behind other jurisdictions in tapping this source of federal funding for green programs in the province, so the allotment of $32.3 million from federal coffers was especially noteworthy.

The $32.3 million had to be matched by the provincial government in order to be approved, so between the two sources, $64.6 million was handed over to Efficiency Manitoba.

At the news conference in January, how the funding would be used was unclear, but media were left with the impression it would result in the expansion of existing energy-efficiency programs. However, all of the funding provided will only go to cutting the bill for efficiency programming that would otherwise be provided by Hydro, Efficiency Manitoba’s sole funder (in tandem with Centra Gas, the natural gas subsidiary of Hydro).

This caveat was built into the creation of Efficiency Manitoba.

In its first three-year plan, released in 2019, it states: “If additional sources of funding become available to support either electric or natural gas portfolio activities outlined within the plan, it is understood that these amounts are to be used to reduce the electric or natural gas funding provided by Manitoba Hydro or Centra Gas, respectively.”

Efficiency Manitoba chief executive officer Colleen Kuruluk confirmed the funding would merely be displacing funding originally provided by Manitoba Hydro.

“On our natural gas bill, we have a carbon charge now. And so with the feds now paying for half of our programs, that won’t be coming from Manitoba Hydro ratepayers, so it’s essentially a really good way of returning those dollars directly to them,” Kuruluk said Wednesday.

Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen, pointed out the funding for Efficiency Manitoba is a small portion of the overall cost of providing electricity and natural gas but would likely make some impact.

“We anticipate the costs of Manitoba Hydro’s natural gas operations will be lower. However, Manitoba Hydro has yet to determine how the federal funding factors into future rate requests,” Owen said in a statement to the Free Press.

Ultimately, the funding provided by the federal government to pursue energy efficiency programming will result in subsidizing the cost of the energy it’s meant to discourage the use of.

Federal Minister for Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson was not made available for an interview or comment, despite being given in excess of a week’s notice.

Efficiency Manitoba will expand programming in some regards, but only the expansion that was originally prescribed in the three-year plan published in 2019, a spokesperson for provincial Minister of Conservation and Climate Sarah Guillemard said in an email statement.

The spokesperson maintained federal government funding would be responsible for increased energy savings.

In other instances across the country, loopholes in the implementation of federal climate policies have been exploited resulting in the undermining of the policies’ intent.

For example, in New Brunswick, PC Premier Blaine Higgs attempted to lower the excise tax on gasoline in the Maritime province to help soften the blow of the federally-mandated carbon tax.

Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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