Regulator failing to enforce deadlines

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Power system review documents reveal delays at PUB

Deadlines are final moments, end points, cliff edges — just not at the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB).

As a regulator, the public utilities board committed to getting to the bottom of rolling power outages and sudden blackouts in Newfoundland in January 2014 and making sure the events were not repeated.

The PUB launched a formal review of the electrical system, with the main power-generating utility — Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro — required to respond to written questioning and demands for documents.

Over the past several months, correspondence emerging from that review has revealed repeated extensions to deadlines for responses, including in February, March and June. In some cases, even with extensions, deadlines passed.

“The orderly and efficient progress of this matter requires that all involved observe the schedule that is set,” the regulator wrote in a letter to Hydro on July 29, chiding the utility.

A letter dated Aug. 12, sets out the latest problem. In it, the PUB declares the utility’s latest filing incomplete.

“The Board notes that the ‘Winter Readiness Self Assessment’ (report) filed on Aug. 1 does not detail a plan to complete the necessary work in relation to Hydro’s generation assets to ensure they are available by Dec. 1, 2014,” it states.

“The Board is concerned that Hydro has not yet demonstrated that it has developed a plan for the work required to ensure that its generation assets are available by December 1.”

In response, it has demanded another report, allowing Hydro until Aug. 29 to submit it.

PUB’s chair and CEO Andy Wells was reached by phone Wednesday and asked about deadlines, delays and winter readiness. He refused to comment.

Hydro vice-president Rob Henderson, meanwhile, did respond to questions.

He said the utility has been doing its best to make sure information being submitted to the regulator is complete and understandable.

The power system review has led Hydro to respond to about 500 responses to requests for information to date, according to what the PUB has published online.

“Hydro believes in this particular instance that there may be a misunderstanding on our part as to what the Board was looking for,” Henderson said of the latest communication with the regulator. “So, as a result, we will be providing a response by next Friday and that response, we’re very confident, will demonstrate to the Board and to our customers, all of the actions that were taken.”

He said Hydro respects the PUB, but also acknowledged there have been lapsed deadlines for Hydro in the course of the power system review.

“We will meet the deadlines as much as possible,” he said, but added reaching 100 per cent compliance is not as simple as adding more bodies. In some cases, information lies with select individuals with knowledge of specific parts of the power system and those individuals are, at times, in the midst of work required for winter readiness and cannot be pulled away.

“In some instances, some of the information may not be there specifically on the deadline, but that’s because we are making sure what we provide is complete,” he said.

Hydro is facing a heavy regulatory load, given the power system review is not its only business before the PUB. Henderson said the utility has responded to 1,800 requests for information in the past year.

He also said he has confidence Hydro will be ready for winter’s power demands.

The PUB has yet to begin public hearings on the power system review. A second report from Liberty Consulting is expected to be submitted soon.

Its final report on the matter is due, by its own calendar, in the first quarter of 2015.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Liberty Consulting

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Ken Collis
    August 21, 2014 - 04:32

    Mr. Henderson, I'm sorry for pointing out your mistake but we aren't your customers, we are the owners. I work in an industry where billions of dollars are at stake too. I can tell you right now that at any time the owners ask we can provide justification for every dollar spent, how much was spent, how much is left in our budget, where we, and all sub-contractors, stand on planned maintenance and what we require completed to ensure no disruption in our work. Why can't Hydro do the same? Should we have more qualified personnel working there? It seems to me the only solution is a change in management.

    • Adam Smith
      August 21, 2014 - 08:22

      Hear hear!