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Manitoba Hydro facing multi-million-dollar revenue shortfall due to coronavirus

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Manitoba Hydro says exports and domestic commercial use of energy are down substantially, and it has turned to borrowing money to cover late payments from customers. Global's Erik Pindera has more on the latest numbers from the Crown corporation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has cost Manitoba Hydro about $26 million in revenue so far while the public utility grapples with a substantial drop in exports and domestic commercial usage.

Hydro CEO Jay Grewal revealed the latest numbers at a Crown corporation committee meeting Thursday — the first look inside the utility in two years, and the first with Grewal at the top position.

READ MORE: Manitoba Hydro scaling back work, cancelling travel at Keeyask site to fight COVID-19 spread

She told members non-domestic exports have dropped by $9 million, largely due to a drop in demand caused by the pandemic, but also from lower power generation, while revenue on the domestic front is down $17 million.

Most of the domestic drop comes with decreased demand from the commercial and industrial sectors, but with many people spending more time at home, residential use has climbed by as much as nine per cent at times.

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Meanwhile, Grewal told the hearing — which saw official opposition leader Wab Kinew and NDP Crown services critic Adrien Sala and other committee members grill her on finances and other files — it’s unclear what the full financial impact of the pandemic on the Crown corporation’s coffers will be.

“We continue to monitor, we continue to track, but it’s difficult to say specifically what our financial performance will be like this fiscal year,” Grewal said.

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“We don’t know what a potential wave two might look like. There are so many different scenarios there, but we actively monitor, and weekly are assessing exactly what is happening with demand and the load for energy.”

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Grewal told the committee the total anticipated hit to Hydro’s revenue this fiscal year is two per cent of the budgeted $2.9 billion — a $58-million loss.

READ MORE: Manitoba Hydro asks unionized workers to take unpaid days off

Direct virus-related expenses — like personal protective equipment and business reconfiguration — are pegged around $8.6 million, but Manitoba Hydro budgeted for up to $11 million, according to Grewal.

Although residential energy use has climbed, the Crown corporation isn’t reaping any financial benefits.

Grewal said the utility is paying to provide relief for customers, which include flexible bill payments, suspension of late payment charges for up to six months, and temporarily suspending disconnection for overdue accounts.

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“That is having an impact in terms of having to turn to financial markets to borrow the funds that we would typically receive from our customers in the payment of their bills as per the typical terms,” Grewal said.

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Meantime, she came under scrutiny from Kinew and Sala over Hydro’s decision to lay off some 200 workers as a cost-cutting measure.

READ MORE: Manitoba Hydro laying off hundreds of employees in $11M cost-saving measure

Kinew questioned Grewal on whether the layoffs would impede economic growth.

Grewal said the utility has seen $5.7 million in workforce savings.

More than 20 per cent of that figure came through employees, unions, and others who accepted three days of unpaid leave —1.2 hours per biweekly pay period for 20 months.

“We had hoped to reach [an] agreement with the other unions to ensure that all employees participated,” Grewal said. “Unfortunately, after a month of discussions and negotiations with IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) as well as UNIFOR, we were unsuccessful, and therefore [temporary] layoff notices of 202 were issued.”
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