Can the PUB be a fair judge?

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There must be an explanation for the argument that the Public Utilities Board (PUB) is the best agency for an inquiry into the recent failings of the public electrical system.

It must be obvious, but I can’t get past the fact that the PUB is a participant in the decision-making process. In particular, the PUB approved the maintenance activity that made the Hardwoods facility unavailable during the recent incidents.

Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe that the PUB would fairly judge the other parties, who merely execute those actions approved by the PUB.

The board is a crucial component of the system and must be held to account along with the other agencies who make up the system.

John Austin

St. John’s

Organizations: PUB

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  • Maggy Carter
    January 14, 2014 - 14:35

    I'd not only call you a skeptic - I'd call you a government hack. Clearly you are someone intent on poisoning public confidence in THE agency established by law to regulate the activities of utilities including NL Hydro and NL Power. Why is regulation required and why is the regulator separate and independent from the government that established it? Principally because these utilities are monopolies and, unregulated, monopolies tend to abuse their monopolistic powers. Ratepayers - in effect the general public - need assurances they are not being neglected or gouged by the utility. The PUB is NOT responsible for planning new projects and systems upgrade. They are responsible only for reviewing them. The PUB’s mandate is to determine whether proposed investments and operating expenditures are necessary and, if so, to set rates that provide the utility a satisfactory return. There are literally hundreds of regulatory agencies in Canada. The CRTC, for example, regulates the broadcast and wireless industry. In some cases, the decisions of the regulator are appealable to a federal or provincial cabinet, or alternatively to the Supreme Court of Canada. By and large they are well run and well respected agencies. In the case of the PUB, there is nothing in its history that would cast any doubt on its independence, its objectivity or its competence. That was clearly in evidence when the Board declined to rubber stamp the government's Muskrat Falls proposal. The Board's decision, which was heavily criticized by the current premier and her cabinet, ministers did not conclude the project was good or bad - merely that NALCOR had failed to provide sufficient information on which to render a reasonable judgement. (Most observers believe the information was withheld deliberately for the same reason that the PUB’s terms of reference were severely restricted – to ensure a predetermined outcome.) Following the near collapse of the utility in recent weeks, government knew the PUB would be compelled by its mandate to conduct an inquiry regarding the causes and to make recommendations to prevent it happening again. Concerned that those findings would reflect badly on NALCOR and government, the Premier announced plans for her own review. In government's best case scenario, its non-arms-length review would pre-empt the PUB inquiry but, failing that, it would at least cast doubt on the PUB's competence or objectivity and hence on its findings. The question the public must ask itself is – WHY? Why would government do an end-run around the province’s regulatory agency. It is akin to hiring a private accounting firm to look at its books because it didn’t trust the Auditor General.