Encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy on Vancouver Island

B.C. Utilities Commission’s mandate to serve the “public interest” in jeopardy

July 20, 2008

NANAIMO, B.C. Evidence is mounting that the government’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
“overall, the Commission has a duty to protect the public interest”.

Ironically groups representing the public are increasingly shut out from
the very process meant to protect that public interest.

It’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 participant’s costs will be covered
once the hearings are concluded. This change has effectively sidelined
most non-profit public groups.

“Essentially 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 denied” 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
the population.

“We can appreciate that the BCUC doesn’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,” said Ian Gartshore, the
President of one such not-for-profit group called Energy Solutions for
Vancouver Island Society.

Gartshore added, “Without 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.”

Bertsch added, “And it comes at the very time this input is particularly
critical – how to maximise the benefits from BC Hydro’s energy
efficiency programs now being considered by the BCUC.”

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Ian Gartshore
President, Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island (Society)
353 Seventh St., Nanaimo
250-754-0698
iangarts@telus.net

Ludo Bertsch; 250-592-1488; bcuc@horizontec.com

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