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BCUC holding workshop in PG on Indigenous communities regulating utilities

The British Columbia Utilities Commission is holding a workshop in Prince George next week to discuss potential new regulations on how Indigenous communities can regulate energy utilities.

The Prince George workshop will be held Monday, November 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Coast Inn of the North.

On November 1, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) issued its draft report for the inquiry into the regulation of Indigenous energy utilities.

The inquiry process included feedback from 21 registered interveners and attendees at 11 community input sessions, as well as eight letters of comment. Based on the comments and submissions received during the Inquiry engagement process, the panel has released its draft report with proposed recommendations regarding the potential regulatory framework for Indigenous-owned and operated energy utilities in British Columbia (BC).

The draft report is now available for public review and comment until March 2, 2020. Subject to further feedback received during draft report workshops and a public comment period, the panel’s proposed recommendations include the following:

1. That all ratepayers of Indigenous utilities receive the same protection as ratepayers of non-Indigenous utilities.

2. That the BCUC retain jurisdiction, with respect to approval, compliance, and enforcement of Mandatory Reliability Standards (MRS), applicable to all transmission infrastructure in B.C. regardless of who owns or operates it.

3. That a First Nation be given the opportunity to self-regulate when it provides utility service on its reserve land in much the same way as municipalities and regional districts do. Subject to proposed recommendations 4–6, this can be accomplished by enabling a First Nation or Band Council to “opt out” of BCUC regulation by notifying the BCUC of its intention.

4. That the First Nation should demonstrate it has an appropriate complaint process in place to protect all ratepayers. In the event it cannot do so, the BCUC would retain jurisdiction to handle all complaints.

5. That the BCUC complaint and dispute handling processes be available to any ratepayer who wishes to appeal a decision arising out of the First Nation utility’s complaint process.

6. Safety and reliability (other than MRS) will be the subject of the workshop and comment period. If the final report recommends that the BCUC retains jurisdiction over safety and reliability, First Nations would not be able to opt out of those applicable portions of the Utilities Commission Act(UCA).

7. That the Nisga’a Nation be given the opportunity to self-regulate, as do municipalities and regional districts, when it provides utility service on its own lands.

8. That notwithstanding the Nisga’a’s authority over their own lands, the BCUC retains jurisdiction over MRS, because of the interconnected nature of the North American bulk electric system.

9. That a modern treaty nation be given the same opportunity to self-regulate, when it provides utility service on its own lands, as proposed for the Nisga’a Nation, provided that a modern Treaty contains terms that are substantially similar to those in the Nisga’a Treaty.

10. That First Nations who are parties to historical treaties be covered by the same proposed recommendations 3-6, in the “reserved lands” section of the draft report.

11. That the Westbank First Nation be given the opportunity to self-regulate when it provides utility services on its lands, as proposed for the Nisga’a Nation, provided that the advisory council law applies to the resolution of utility complaints.

12. That the Sechelt Indian Band and the Sechelt Indian Government District be given the opportunity to self-regulate when they provide utility services on their own lands, as proposed for the Nisga’a Nation, provided that the advisory council has the power to resolve utility complaints.

13. That if a utility ceases to meet the definition of an Indigenous utility it becomes subject to regulation under the UCA.

14. That consideration be given during the workshop and written comment period to any further context in which the definition of Indigenous utility is required. The workshop topics further explore different ways that service is provided, thereby defining an Indigenous utility.

The Prince George workshop is one of  six draft report workshops around B.C. to gather feedback on the draft report and proposed recommendations.

The BCUC is seeking input on a number of specific questions listed in the draft report. The draft report, the draft report summary and the schedule of draft report workshops are available on the BCUC website.

In addition to providing input at the draft report workshops, the public may submit written comments on the report until March 2, 2020. The BCUC will provide an interim status report to the province by December 31, 2019, and a final report to the minister responsible for the Hydro and Power Authority Act by April 30, 2020.

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