When we applied for standing at the PUB hearing on rate mitigation we expected that the Board would welcome a broader spectrum of views than other intervenors could offer. We were surprised and disappointed to be turned down when the Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens’ Coalition (MFCCC) application was rejected. The Board’s response of March 26, 2019 reads as follows:
“In relation to whether the requested participation would be of assistance, the Board acknowledges that some of the members of the Coalition have experience and expertise that may be helpful in relation to some of the issues to be addressed in this review. Nevertheless the rate mitigation review involves a range of complex legal, financial and accounting matters and, to ensure that the review proceeds efficiently and that the identified issues are fully and thoroughly addressed, standing to participate as a party will only be granted where the Board is satisfied that there is a unique interest which is not already represented and that the requested participation would be of assistance in the review. The Board is not satisfied that the Coalition has a unique interest or that its participation as a party would be of material assistance to the Board. The Board invites the Coalition to provide its input by filing written submissions/comments and making a presentation to the Board.”
The MFCCC is not aware of any reason in law why we would be denied standing. . We represent a group of over 250 members. The Coalition has been granted standing at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, an Inquiry in which the Consumer Advocate has also been granted standing. Why the PUB would take a different course is inexplicable.
We did not support the Inquiry’s decision to grant intervenor status to the Consumer Advocate though not due to any concern regarding the diligence of the incumbent in that Office. Rather we take the view that since the government is a party to the Inquiry it ought not be both an intervener and have the right to appoint the representative of ratepayers, too. We take the view that the Commissioner should have been asked to make the appointment independently of government.
We were also disappointed to learn that the Board has held a technical conference with no public notice . The PUB provided the public with no record of the proceedings or access to the documents tabled. As a Coalition, we wrote the Board to express our concern about the hosting of such exclusive conferences and to voice the perspective that the reference hearing was given under s 5 of the Electrical Power Control Act which calls for a public hearing, with the emphasis on the word “public”. We noted that the Electrical Power Control Act requires the Board to hold public hearings where a matter has been referred to it by the Government. We asked the Board to advise where it gets its authority to hold technical conferences in private. The response indicated that the board has “broad authority” which we understand. In other words the Board had the option of choosing a more public approach but elected instead to exclude rather than include. We would have expected the Board to take a more inclusive approach.
In discussions with colleagues who have appeared before the Utilities and Review Board of Nova Scotia on the Maritime Link hearing we have learned of the UARB's more inclusive and transparent approach. People have been granted intervenor status without representing a defined group of Nova Scotian consumers. They were allowed to represent themselves without legal counsel. They received access to all the documents. The MFCCC urges the PUB to emulate the approach taken by the UARB.
In our correspondence with the PUB we also expressed concern with the political process employed in selecting the Consumer Advocate. The response we received was:
“The Board notes that the Consumer Advocate is the appointed representative for the interests of ratepayers in this review and has represented these interests in other matters before this Board for many years. The Board is satisfied that the Consumer Advocate has the mandate, experience and responsibility to represent these interests fully and independently.”
Again the Nova Scotian model is instructive because it is the Board and not the government which appoints their Consumer Advocate. Despite the presence of a strong Consumer Advocate in Nova Scotia the UARB encourages consumer groups to appear as intervenors. The people of that Province were well served by this process during the UARB's Review of the Maritime Link Application process. The Coalition takes the view that the NL PUB has plenty to learn from them. Greater, not less, inclusiveness and transparency will best serve the public interest.
Ron Penney, Chair, MFCCC
David Vardy, Secretary
Des Sullivan, Treasurer