Public groups want a role in negotiations to investigate alleged illegality of ATCO

Edmonton — A group representing residential electricity consumers wants to participate in all discussions on alleged misconduct by one of Alberta’s leading utilities, and tells regulators everything related to ATCO’s actions. I am asking you to publish the information of.

Jim Washowich, a lawyer for the Alberta Consumers Union, said ATCO is trying to “distract” by not exposing the issue to the public.

“This is a watershed event,” said Wachowich.

ATCO has already disclosed a lot of information and said it is working with the Commission to resolve the issue.

In November, the executive department of the Alberta Public Utility Commission requested hearing of findings that ATCO Electric deliberately paid millions of dollars to British Columbia indigenous people to work on new transmission lines. .. It reportedly did so to secure a favorable contract with another ATCO company to provide construction camps for the Transmountain Extended Oil Pipeline Project.

Investigators said the company subsequently broke the law and tried to give Alberta consumers a $ 12 million overpayment. They claimed that the company’s management was aware of the suspicious arrangement and tried to cover its trajectory.

In a document submitted to the Commission, the executive department claims that ATCO “has violated an honest and candid (its) basic obligation … an obligation that the entire regulatory system depends on.”

ATCO admitted that it had made a mistake and said it had signed a high-priced contract to help First Nation build capabilities in new business areas.

In a letter to the Commission’s executive department on October 29, the company’s president, Melanie Bayley, said there was an offer for a $ 16 million settlement.

Letters and other documents recently obtained by the Canadian Press show that investigators and ATCO representatives have agreed to the meeting this week before the Commission holds a formal hearing.

“The parties want an opportunity to proceed with discussions to determine if or to what extent all aspects of the case can be resolved,” a letter from an executive lawyer to the Commission said. rice field.

The proposed settlement must be approved by the Commission.

However, Wakowitch argues that all talks involving regulated utilities must represent the public.

“Acknowledging that we are standing shows that the wider public interest is being considered. We are not considering only one side of the equation,” he said.

Similarly, his group requires that all information collected by the enforcement agency and ATCO be made public. This includes the results of internal investigations.

“The biggest document is what we don’t have,” he said.

Bailey said in an email that it is normal for the Commission’s executives to work with the company on a settlement.

“Administrative penalty issues are handled by the utility and (committee), with no customer or intervener involvement, as only the utility is affected,” Bailey writes.

According to Bailey, many of ATCO’s documents have already been published. She said the company plans to edit commercial and personal details and publish an internal investigation at some point.

“Once again, this is normal in regulatory hearings and is always permitted by the Commission,” she writes.

However, ATCO also claims that some information that has already been published needs to be removed from the record.

“AUC enforcement discloses certain commercial arrangements between unregulated entities that are not subject to AUC jurisdiction and, without permission, inconsistent with the explicit confidentiality provisions of these contracts. “The letter from the company’s lawyer said.

In another letter to the Commission, ATCO President Nancy Southern said the high-priced contract was issued with “established and important” respect for the indigenous community.

“This had a significant impact on the decisions made,” she writes.

A document submitted by the executives claimed that First Nations received an ATCO check and outsourced work to another company at a lower price. The same document claiming that the ATCO manager knew it was likely to happen.

“At that point, you’re not trying to build your abilities, you’re trying to curry your favors,” Wachowitch said.

Wachowich said the seriousness of the alleged violation of ATCO justifies the participation of the general public.

“They violated a very important criterion.”

Public Utility Commission spokesman Jeff Scotton said there was no mandatory schedule to resolve the issue.

Investigators forced ATCO to refund the money received from the high-priced contract rate hike and requested the Commission to impose administrative sanctions. These penalties can be as high as $ 1 million per day for each breach.

Along Bobweber

Canadian press