board must justify its decision

Recently, the Yukon Utility Board denied additional money for interveners and arm’s length consultants.

Recently, the Yukon Utility Board denied additional money for interveners and arm’s length consultants.

The decision is titled Board Order 2008-1.

It is troubling for a couple of reasons.

Or its lack of them.  

The Utilities Consumers’ Group asked the board to review its decision on costs awarded interveners and the Crown-owned Yukon Energy Corporation in October.

It believed the board had lowballed costs granted interveners. It believed costs awarded the Yukon Energy Corp. were too high.

Both groups had invoiced the board for their efforts reviewing the board’s 20-year resource plan and the power purchase agreement between YEC and Minto Exploration Ltd.

The review process is essential. It saves the electrical ratepayers money.

The corporation delivers its wish list. The interveners evaluate it and challenge some of those decisions as too costly, or unworkable.

The board listens, evaluates and makes a decision.

If interveners aren’t involved, the process is a cakewalk for the utility — which passes the cost of its megaprojects and schemes to the people buying the power.

The playing field is not level. It is tilted toward the corporation.

The corporation, flush with money collected from the rate base, is wealthy. Its representatives are paid — a lot — to participate in these hearings.

The interveners are not. They must do the work on faith, hoping for compensation at the end.

They often don’t get much for their efforts.

They research these painfully complicated issues on principle, and defend consumers out of a sense of obligation.

One such guy is Roger Rondeau, of the Utilities Consumers’ Group.

He’s been representing residential ratepayers of the Yukon for more than 15 years.

He describes this work as his hobby.

In the latest round of talks, among the things Rondeau turned up was the fact that the Yukon Energy Corp. had billed the utility board too much for its lawyers’ time.

As a result, the board cut $17,705 from the corporation’s invoice. That’s money that ratepayers (we) would have had to pay on our monthly utility bill.

For his considerable efforts researching and evaluating these arcane, lawyer-drafted screeds, and holding the suits accountable for the bills they submit, Rondeau makes about $1,000 a month. If he’s lucky.

(Already, because of his latest efforts, the ratepayers are $5,000 ahead.)

The other guy is Peter Percival, a professional engineer.

A professional engineer delivering advice can bill his time at about $120 an hour.

The Yukon Utility Board pays such a person no more than $35 an hour.

Compare that with a lawyer working for the corporation. They bill more than $200 an hour.

Fair?

One professional gets $35. The other $200.

Why?

And private interveners, like Rondeau and Percival, are not paid for their attendance at these hearings.

The lawyers are. The corporation reps are too.

Fair?

Rondeau and Percival used to be paid. But, during this last round the board has decided not to pay them for attendance anymore.

That’s what Rondeau was appealing.

The board said no.

It hasn’t said why.

Why?

As noted, such interveners save the corporation and the board money. They come with experience and perspective, and often offer the board valuable advice.

Would the utility board have rolled back the energy corporation’s bill had these volunteers not challenged the board’s earlier decision?

We think not.

But these are side issues to consider.

Most troubling about the latest board order is that it came without reasons.

The board deliberated on the money issue for four months. It gave a decision. But it failed to say why.

It said its reasons will be issued at a later date.

It has almost been a month now.

This is a problem because Rondeau could appeal this board order. But he’s only got a month to do so.

And without reasons, how does he prepare an appeal?

Fact is, he can’t.

And it isn’t clear whether that 30-day appeal period, defined by law, can be extended.

So, here’s the situation: either the utility board planned this to block an appeal by Rondeau’s group. Or after four months, the board made an arbitrary decision.

Both are deeply troubling.

Board members are well paid.

They had four months to consider the payment issue.

They made a decision.

They should explain why.

If they can’t, they should resign.

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