Alberta Utilities Commission Revises Participation Involvement Program
The Alberta Utilities Commission (“Commission”) has instituted important interim changes to the Participant Involvement Program (“PIP”) requirements for electric and gas facility applications. These changes, set out in Bulletin 2020-13, are a direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and address three aspects of PIP:
- requirements and notifications under Rules 007 and 020;
- Indigenous engagement; and
- provision of mailing labels to stakeholders.
1. Rules 007 and 020
Previously, an applicant engaging in a PIP was required to allow a minimum of 14 calendar days for stakeholders to receive, consider and respond to project notifications (Rule 007 Appendix A1 and A2; Rule 020 section 2). Effective immediately the minimum number of days has been increased to 30.
Further, the Commission is discouraging face-to-face consultation, such as public open-houses or town-hall meetings, as it is difficult to ensure proper physical distancing. Rather, the Commission encourages applicants to seek new and novel means of continuing to engage with stakeholders during these times including using alternative communication processes such as phone, e-mail or video conferencing.
2. Indigenous Engagement
Bulletin 2020-13 acknowledges ongoing and significant reductions to indigenous consultation offices throughout the province. Many are noted to have either closed or to be working at reduced capacity.
The Commission’s Bulletin makes clear that applicants are expected to continue with consultation efforts. Applicants should plan on building additional time into their PIP to ensure Indigenous consultation can be properly conducted considering office closures and reduced capacity.
3. Provision of Mailing Labels
The Commission has dispensed with the requirement that applicants provide stakeholders mailing labels for all parties contacted as part of a PIP. In place of this requirement, applicants must now file an Excel spreadsheet containing similar information as part of their application package. The specific information and template to be used are set out in Bulletin 2020-13.
These sensible changes will increase the length of time with which a proper PIP can be carried out. Applicants should adjust schedules to address these revised timelines and new guidance from the Commission.
Applicants should also exercise increased vigilance in the execution of PIPs at this time. What constitutes a reasonable means of communicating with stakeholders, considering current limitations, will take on a different meaning than previous. Detailed and clear record keeping will be even more imperative to ensure the onset of Covid-19 is not successfully relied upon by stakeholders seeking to challenge the adequacy of consultation.
McLennan Ross continues to monitor all changes in practice implemented by the Commission and assess the impacts. Our lawyers remain able to assist in navigating applications and proceedings before the Commission in these unusual times.