B.C. Utilities Commissionâ€™s mandate to serve the â€œpublic interestâ€ in jeopardy
July 20, 2008
NANAIMO, B.C. Evidence is mounting that the governmentâ€™s body
responsible for regulating the utility companies in B.C. is experiencing
increasing difficulty getting public involvement in its decisions.
The B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) is an autonomous commission of the
provincial government that determines rates and programs of both private
and public utilities. In its guide for participants it states that
â€œoverall, the Commission has a duty to protect the public interestâ€.
Ironically groups representing the public are increasingly shut out from
the very process meant to protect that public interest.
Itâ€™s likely that the reason boils down to money. Participation in the
hearing process is very costly. Recently the BCUC changed its policies,
adding more doubt about whether a participantâ€™s costs will be covered
once the hearings are concluded. This change has effectively sidelined
most non-profit public groups.
â€œEssentially the only participants who can afford to be involved in the
complex process are those with financial backing to cover themselves in
case their claims are deniedâ€ said Ludo Bertsch, a frequent Intervenor
in the hearings.
At a recent BCUC hearing, a Commissioner noted the lack of
representation from the segment of the population that would be the
hardest hit by a significant hike in a proposed electricity rate. The
commission then turned to dozens of letters received from the general
public in order to get a sense of the issues affecting this segment of
â€œWe can appreciate that the BCUC doesnâ€™t want to be funding just anybody
who feels like participating, but the process they now have effectively
shuts out most consumer and community groups,â€ said Ian Gartshore, the
President of one such not-for-profit group called Energy Solutions for
Vancouver Island Society.
Gartshore added, â€œWithout a public voice at these hearings we fear that
much of the purpose of the BCUC is being thwarted. It is no longer fully
accountable to the public.â€
Bertsch added, â€œAnd it comes at the very time this input is particularly
critical â€“ how to maximise the benefits from BC Hydroâ€™s energy
efficiency programs now being considered by the BCUC.â€
President, Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island (Society)
353 Seventh St., Nanaimo
Ludo Bertsch; 250-592-1488; firstname.lastname@example.org
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