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: