Government of New Brunswick

Description and Background
The Province of New Brunswick will establish and appoint a full-time public energy advocate to replace the system of ad hoc appointment of public intervenors.

Utility consumer advocacy arose with the rise of regulation of energy utilities. The traditional role of consumer advocates is to challenge proposed rate increases by intervening in formal regulatory cases. Consumer advocates may also focus on consumer protection issues, such as service quality, reliability and price stability.

There is no single model for utility consumer advocacy. Our current model provides for the ad hoc government appointment of a practicing lawyer as a public intervenor to represent rate payer interests. A public intervenor remains independent of government influence and conducts the intervention according to his or her discretion. Other advocacy models provide for cost recovery for advocacy groups appearing at regulatory proceedings or the establishment of a dedicated consumer advocate.

Public intervenor costs are direct expenses, paid by the utility, which usually include professional fees and the costs of experts employed to assist with evidence. In complex rate cases, costs can be significant. Although they are passed on to the utility, they are ultimately recovered from utility customers as part of the revenue requirement.

The current public intervenor model has a number of weaknesses:

  • There is no particular requirement for knowledge, experience or expertise in relation to energy or regulatory matters.
  • There is no guarantee of continuity of appointments, especially between government mandates.
  • There is little or no oversight over costs.
  • Appointments are limited to particular proceedings. There is no inter-proceeding advocacy role, nor is there an avenue by which public oncerns, complaints or issues are brought to light.
  • There is no guidance of the particular role or position to be taken at utility interventions, nor is there any clear definition of the stakeholder group (if any) that the public intervenor is mandated to represent.

The appointment of a full-time Public Energy Advocate would correct these limitations by:

  • Ensuring a consistently high standard of competence and experience.
  • Delivering services responsibly, effectively and efficiently.
  • Providing accountability for an equitable allocation of costs.
  • Providing continuous services, including information resources, complaint resolution and public advocacy in matters not tied to specific regulatory proceedings.
  • Providing a clear mandate for the scope of the interests being served.

Key Objectives Served by this Action
Low and Stable Energy Prices
– A key role of a Public Energy Advocate would be to challenge all utility rate applications in a way that assists the EUB in arriving at decisions that are just and reasonable.

Effective Regulation – The establishment of a Public Energy Advocate would offer better protection and new services for under-represented energy consumers in relation to utility rates and services and may result in a more