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Utilities board silent on intervener compensation

The Yukon Utilities Board has yet to rule on how much it will pay individuals and groups who contributed to public hearings on the board’s…

The Yukon Utilities Board has yet to rule on how much it will pay individuals and groups who contributed to public hearings on the board’s contentious 20-year resource plan.

Both citizens and organizations were awarded intervener status during the hearings, qualifying them for financial compensation if board members deemed their contributions helpful.

The hearing process began in July 2006 and the formal process ended this spring.

Interveners submitted compensation proposals in May.

For four months the utilities board has been silent about compensation and has yet to issue a ruling.

Intervener Peter Percival, a professional engineer, was heavily involved in the hearings and applied for $11,375 in compensation, basing his estimate on e-mail logs and diary notes.

He has been met with silence when trying to contact the utilities board about when he could expect a ruling.

“If I don’t get anything, then I don’t get anything, but make a ruling,” said Percival in an interview.

“What’s a reasonable length of a time — a couple months? It doesn’t take that long to assess. The hearings were over in May.”

Past compensation rulings, usually completed by consultants and given formal approval by board members, had been made within a month of the cost-recovery deadline.

The utilities board asks interveners to keep detailed records of their involvement to help determine final compensation numbers. The Yukon Energy Corporation, which initiated the hearings, actually pays interveners at the direction of the utilities board.

Nine interveners registered with the utilities board for the hearings.

The Utilities Consumers’ Group is asking for roughly $15,000 for its work as an intervener.

The Yukon Energy Corporation is claiming about $468,000 in costs, but is not considered an intervener.

The Yukon Conservation Society is asking for about $2,250 in compensation, said Lewis Rifkind, the organization’s energy co-ordinator.

The society also hasn’t heard from the board since submitting its compensation application in May.

“It’d be nice to get the money,” said Rifkind. “We’re not going to starve, but we are a non-profit after all.”

The last time Rifkind applied for compensation, he heard back within a month and received somewhere between 85 and 90 per cent of the compensation applied for.

Rifkind describes his work as dealing with mountains of documents that became quite technical. The society provided important information on possible environmental impacts of electrical lines, he said.

“We’re waiting for a decision now,” said Percival.

“It’s not like this would be ‘mad-money’ if we were compensated. We keep a pretty sharp pencil, but if the money is coming in, perhaps we can recover some of the costs of research.”

The utilities board’s executive secretary said the board is currently working on the cost-recovery orders, although board members are not following a specific timeline.

“It’s a priority for the board,” said Deana Lemke. “The orders will be released in due course.”

The utilities board has been in contact with interveners looking for information on the status of their applications, she added.

“(Interveners) know the board is working out the orders, they know that,” said Lemke.

Percival said he believes his work was instrumental in the board’s rejection of a controversial $24-million purchase-power agreement between Yukon Energy Corporation and mining company Sherwood Copper that would bring electricity to a Minto mine.

Yukon Energy proposed building a $20-million transmission line between Carmacks and Stewart Crossing, possibly bringing power to the Minto mine if a deal could be reached.

Percival, former chair of the utilities board, raised concerns about who was actually shouldering the financial risk of bringing power to the mine.

“The board denied the proposed agreement and it quoted heavily from my report in its decision,” said Percival.

YEC and Sherwood Copper came back to the hearings with another financial plan, this time with government funding, putting the taxpayer on the hook instead of the ratepayer — essentially the same people — if the plan goes awry.

“I’m sorry that I even intervened now,” Percival joked.

Still, if the board finds an intervener provides useful information, generally payment is provided to compensate for the work in preparing presentations, which often require analysis of complex documents and issues.

Interveners are useful because they can bring expertise to very specific issues, or a different viewpoint on broad implications of utilities board decisions, said Percival.

“These can be very complicated matters and they need interveners,” he said.

“If the board itself starts expressing arguments, they’re entering the fray and not acting as a quasi-judicial tribunal so they really need the alternative side rather than just the utility companies.

“Interveners are really important.”

Several groups and individuals, including the Yukon Energy Corp., the Yukon Electrical Company Limited and the Utilities Consumer’s Group, made presentations during hearings on the utility board’s 20-year resource plan.

Citizens and organizations were invited by the utility board to provide their expertise during the hearing, which examined major electrical generation and transmission issues requirements to the year 2025.

Calls to the Yukon Utility Board and the Utility Consumers’ Group were not returned.