Bump dinners from public bill: Utilities Consumers’ Group

A lawyer and consultants hired by the Yukon Energy Corporation are wrongfully billing the public for meals they incurred during regulatory hearings for the Mayo B project last April, says the Utilities Consumers' Group.

A lawyer and consultants hired by the Yukon Energy Corporation are wrongfully billing the public for meals they incurred during regulatory hearings for the Mayo B project last April, says the Utilities Consumers’ Group.

Records filled with the Yukon Utilities’ Board – the territory’s power regulator – show receipts for two meals at Georgio’s Cuccina and another at Pho Five Star Vietnamese restaurant through April 6 to 9.

All three meals were initially covered by Yukon Energy’s long-time consultant, Cam Osler, who is based in Winnipeg. Also in attendance were the utility’s main lawyer, John Landry from Davis LLP, and Osler’s colleague, Mona Pollitt-Smith.

Osler’s receipts, which total nearly $300, are part of a laundry list of unwarranted claims the Utilities Consumers’ Group is contesting in the follow-up to the hearings. Hearing intervenors can have costs covered by the government, but frivolous things like meals are not allowed, said Roger Rondeau, head of the utilities group.

“It’s right there in the rules and regulations,” said Rondeau, who added the board has rejected meal expenses in the past.

In total, there are around $20,000 in claims the board should deny during its review, he said.

In full, there’s just over $100,000 being claimed, most of which is admissible. Yukon Energy’s lawyer and consultants are claiming $139,612, largely for the hours they spent preparing for the hearing. Whitehorse, another intervenor, is claiming $39,504.87.

Some of the meals on Yukon Energy’s tab appear to have been removed. But after poring over the 117-page document, Rondeau’s consultant found some meals had been filed under “travel charges.”

Yukon Energy did not want to comment on the charges or say what kind of meals they believe are warranted.

“Yukon Energy submitted what we felt were fair costs to the Yukon Utilities Board,” said Janet Patterson, a spokesperson for the power utility, in an e-mail. “It is up to the YUB to scrutinize those costs and determine if they will go into rate base or not, just as the YUB will scrutinize the intervenors’ costs the same way.”

Patterson did not respond to a request for more details. But that question, whether the costs will go into the rate base or not, may indicate what the utility is up to.

While the meals seemed to be removed from the final tally in the cost claims for the Mayo B hearing, they may end up on Yukon Energy’s expenses tab instead, mused Rondeau.

“These may be just all the receipts that they sent to Yukon Energy for costs,” he said.

The Yukon government pays for the costs incurred during the hearing, since it’s a regulatory requirement. But Yukon Energy, which is owned by the government, has its own set of claimable expenses, which includes meals. It’s not clear whether the lawyer and consultants could be covered by their expense account.

A clearer example of unjust expenses can be found in the filing done by Whitehorse’s lawyer, Brownlee LLP.

They claimed a working lunch and a working dinner during their lawyer’s visit to Whitehorse. Those aren’t allowed either, said Rondeau.

“No meals,” he said.

The city’s lawyer has claimed costs within the rules, said Brian Christ, the director of operations for Whitehorse.

“They believe they stuck right with the guidelines,” he said. “With regard to the meals, if it was a working meal, I believe that is admissible, but per diem meals are not.”

But the regulations, known as the Scale of Costs, say unequivocally meals are excluded from accommodation or travel costs.

The rules also don’t cover car rentals, parking and gasoline bills, which also appear in Yukon Energy’s claims. The rules only cover a mileage fee.

The utilities watchdog is also concerned about the extra help the lawyer and consultants for Yukon Energy listed in their claims.

At one time, the consulting firm, Intergroup Consulting, had six people working on hearing preparation, some in purely administrative roles. The nearly $12,000 claimed for this extra work should be denied, said Rondeau.

Landry, the utility’s lawyer, also lists work done by another person in his office.

But these secondary roles are meant to be included in the main costs, said Rondeau. The $630 claimed for Landry’s helper should be scrapped.

Also, the city’s consultant company may have double-billed taxpayers, he said.

In a schedule of work performed by two consultants, both appear to be doing the same job.

“If you look at it, there’s an appearance of overlap,” said Rondeau.

Whitehorse’s consultant, Garbutt Consulting, hired its own consultant, Keith Dannacker, who did most of the preparatory work for the hearing.

That created some spotty record-keeping, said Rondeau.

While Dannacker explains what he was doing during the working hours he claims, an employee of Garbutt Consultant doesn’t fill in the blanks, says Rondeau.

The city justified the use of a consultant middleman because the hearing requires specialization the main firm, Garbutt, can’t provide, said Christ.

“They draw on resources of more specialized expertise in utility costing,” he said. “They get right down in the costing of utilities.”

The utilities group itself is claiming $21,652 for work it did in hearing preparation. The Yukon Conservation Society is claiming $5,880 for labour it incurred.

The board is likely looking at the claims right now, said Rondeau. A call to the board’s administrative office was not returned.

Whitehorse doesn’t believe it’s the consumers’ group’s place to question claims, said Christ.

“It’s a little bit odd to us that the Utilities Consumers’ Group has taken this position of challenging the city and the other intervenors,” he said.

The city will wait for the board’s decision and wouldn’t file a response to the consumers’ group.

“We don’t intend to respond to the UCG directly,” said Christ.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@gmail.com

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