On May 20 and 21 The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) held meetings to review the rules pertaining to intervener costs (a.k.a. Rule 22). The meetings were announced as if it was a fairly innocuous process, designed to improve the management of intervener costs (Ref: Rule 22 consultation process at www.auc.ab.ca). In reality the content of the meetings should concern every farmer, landowner, small businessperson and citizen in this province.
The relatively new (created in 2003) Utility Consumer Advocate Office (UCA), empowered since Bill 46, is proposing to the AUC that the UCA be granted comprehensive and primary intervention status on behalf of residential, farm and small business consumers in all applicable cases before the AUC.
The UCA, supported by industry, is proposing to the AUC that the UCA be given preferential status over all other interveners in AUC hearings. In effect, if a member of the public or some other consumer group wants to intervene in a proceeding, they need not apply – the UCA will be representing them. If a citizen or citizen’s group insists on intervening, the UCA and industry members are suggesting, before being eligible for cost recovery, an individual or group should be required to seek pre-approval by first demonstrating why they are intervening, the value they intend to bring, and how their position differs from that of the UCA. Industry is proposing the costs related to the pre-approval process should not be recoverable. Groups and citizens directly and adversely affected by a proposed project should be required to work with the UCA at their own expense.
The UCA’s and industry’s proposals are profoundly unjust and undemocratic. They are suggesting it be mandatory we be required to work with the UCA at our own expense, and yet in the same letter the UCA states specifically, “There is no “obligation for the UCA to work with all other interveners in matters before the AUC the UCA operates under the direction of a diverse and representative Governance Advisory Board.”. Furthermore, If a group’s (or individual’s) position differs from another group’s (or individual’s) position, the UCA Governance Advisory Board claims the authority to direct the UCA to take multiple positions into a hearing!
What should have been a meeting to discuss issues related to managing intervener costs, is in reality a coop d’état to quash all contrarian intervention by the public. If the AUC allows the UCA to proclaim itself as the primary representative of residential, farm, and small business consumers in all applicable AUC cases and awards the UCA preferential status, a government appointed board will be hearing objections from a government appointed advocate.
As directly affected citizens we can be denied any input into electrical transmission line proposals, gas line proposals, and power plant, (nuclear power plants and hydro dams), applications.
The UCA did state at these meetings, it was not their intention to usurp our right to intervene. However, that’s not what their letters say, that is not what the industry is proposing, and that is not what the rule says! In response to the concerns I raised, the UCA said we should trust them!
Ironically, the UCA was not created by legislation; it is a rule. This is important to note, because being a rule, there is no easy legal mechanism available to a citizen of Alberta to force the UCA to take a specific stance. The UCA reports only to the Minister of Services Alberta. It does not report to you. It appears our government is further diluting our rights, (post Bill 46 and the elimination of the requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments), by dictating who will represent us.
The cost reimbursement system is not broke; it only needs to be managed. Duplication of intervention is not a problem; it only needs to be managed. Cost awards should be reasonable, directly related to the proceedings, reflect prudence, good judgment, due diligence, and be defensible to a reasonable and impartial observer. Consumer groups, and citizens should not be penalized or punished when industry comes knocking on their door.
The proposed changes to Rule 22, if adopted, will create a double standard for citizens directly and adversely affected by a proposed project. Not only will landowners be subject to a pre-approval process, which could cost as much as a hearing. Industry will enjoy a substantial advantage over landowners by forcing those who could least afford it to pay for two processes with little chance of recouping their costs for one process.
Oppose the changes to Rule 22 suggested by the UCA and industry!
Please write Giuseppa Bentivegna at Alberta Utilities Commission Fifth Avenue Place, #400, 425-1st SW Calgary, Alberta T2P 3L8 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (403) 592-4503.
OBJECT – OBJECT – OBJECT!
Lavesta Area Group