Utility board shortchanges intervener

A local utilities watchdog is questioning the amount of money paid out by the Yukon Utilities Board to participants in public hearings.

A local utilities watchdog is questioning the amount of money paid out by the Yukon Utilities Board to participants in public hearings.

The paycheque does not match the contribution made to a public hearing into a power-purchase agreement, said Peter Percival, a former chair of the utilities board.

Percival submitted a claim for about $11,500, but the board awarded him $2,271.50.

The utilities board financially compensates individuals and groups who take part in public hearings.

“The intervention was of a non-specific nature, with no specific subject matter expertise demonstrated or substantiated in (Percival’s) cost application,” said the board in its decision.

The board “considered Mr. Percival’s intervention useful,” it added.

It’s not clear what further information the board needed to justify the full compensation claim, said Percival.

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

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.

The utilities board quoted extensively from his arguments in making its decision to reject the first power-purchase agreement, said Percival.

“I like to think I have some expertise, but they get to determine the facts and they may say I don’t,” he said.

Percival previously worked with the Yukon government on the power line between Mayo and Dawson and wrote a contract for purchase power agreement between YTG and a small power producer in Fraser, BC.

“At the local level, as a voice, I have some experience,” he added.

Not completely satisfied with the compensation awarded by the utilities board, Percival said he might have received less than he asked for because he was critical not only of the power-purchase agreement, but of the process and policies of the board, too.

There were no oral hearings, where follow-up questions can be asked in a cross-examination of the utilities, Percival told the board.

A new boardmember was appointed halfway through the hearings, another criticism Percival made.

The utilities board asks interveners to keep detailed records of their involvement to help determine final compensation numbers.

Nine interveners registered with the utilities board for the hearings.

The Yukon Conservation Society asked for $5,267. It received $3,569 in compensation.

Roger Rondeau, of the Utility Consumers’ Group, received about $9,800, or 75 per cent of his requested compensation.

The utilities board could be discouraging citizens from contributing to future public hearings by not sufficiently compensating them for their work, said Percival.

“They should encourage local participation,” he said. “They need it.”

Local interveners might have had their compensation claims reduced because they did not present evidence, just arguments.

The board wrote the interventions were “of a non-specific nature.”

“They used that term for every local intervener,” said Percival.

“I suppose that’s because none of us presented any evidence. It’s very difficult to present evidence in a case like this because the utilities hold all the cards. It’s almost impossible.”

The complex information and piles of documents led to a “considerable amount of effort and I don’t think the compensation is adequate,” he added.

The Yukon Electrical Company Limited received 100 per cent of its cost application and the Yukon Energy Corporation’s lawyers and consultants received $225 per hour, the maximum fee allowed by the board, noted Percival.

The board accepted all of the hours the lawyers and consultants claimed, yet the board rejected their work on the first power-purchase agreement.

As is the board’s policy, the Crown-owned Energy Corp. received the full amount asked, a total of about $620,000 for the 20-year resource plan and power-purchase agreement hearings.

“I think the utilities board should have considered that first PPA was so flawed, the cost of that initial work should be deducted from what the utility asked for because it was a waste of time,” said Percival.

“If your appeal or case is denied in a court, you pay the cost and you don’t expect the other parties to pay the costs. The other parties here are the ratepayers.”

Another confusing decision was the board’s refusal to accept Percival’s travel expenses.

The decision cited Percival’s home in Cowley Creek as being too close to claim travel expenses. Percival actually lives at Cowley Lake.

He won’t ask the board to reconsider its decision and will continue to participate in future hearings.

“I’m stubborn, foolish and arrogant enough that I’ll probably still participate, but I’ll be more careful in keeping track of my hours.”