Companies, organizations, and individuals alike have had to work hard to adapt to new realities during the COVID-19 pandemic. One such organization is the British Columbia Utilities Commission (“BCUC”), the independent regulatory agency of the BC Government operating under the Utilities Commission Act. The BCUC’s responsibilities include, among other things, regulation of our province’s energy utilities.
In swift response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, on March 20, 2020, the BCUC issued an Order to all regulated public utilities directing them to suspend customer disconnections for a minimum of 90 days for matters other than safety.
Taking further action, the BCUC on April 7, 2020 – in what was believed to be Canada’s first-ever fully digital energy regulatory hearing process – approved applications from the province’s largest utilities, BC Hydro, Fortis Energy Inc. (“FEI”), and FortisBC Inc. (“FBC”), to create customer relief programs designed to help mitigate customer financial hardships flowing from COVID-19.
Pursuant to Order G-79-20, BC Hydro’s Electric Tariff was amended in accordance with a direction from the BC Government, and allowed certain relief for eligible residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Specifically for commercial ratepayers, the BCUC consented to BC Hydro waiving charges for eligible customers served under Electric Tariff Rate Schedules 1205, 1234, 1300, 1310, and 1311 who have closed their business as a result of COVID-19, with such relief lasting from the later of April 1, 2020 and the date of the closure of the business, until June 30, 2020.
In Order G-81-20, FEI was granted interim approval to offer a three-month bill payment deferral beginning April 1, 2020 for residential customers and to small commercial customers served under Rate Schedule 2, 2B, 2U, and 2X who have been directly financially impacted as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, FEI was granted interim approval to offer relief in the form of a bill credit for three months, from April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2020, to small commercial customers under those same Rate Schedules who have closed their business due to COVID-19.
Finally, in Order G-80-20, FBC was granted interim approval to offer a similar three-month bill payment deferral starting April 1, 2020 to residential customers and small commercial customers served under Rate Schedule 20, as well as certain Rate Schedule 22 customers who meet the Rate Schedule 22 size restrictions, who have been directly financially impacted as a result of COVID-19. Similarly, FBC was granted interim approval to offer bill relief credits for three months, from April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2020, to those same small commercial customers under Rate Schedule 20 or eligible Rate Schedule 22 customers who have closed their business due to COVID0-19.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BCUC has suspended all in-person regulatory processes and is in the process of amending regulatory timetables for current ongoing proceedings. Despite ceasing in-person proceedings, as evidenced by the successful digital streamlined review process facilitating the above-described customer relief programs, the BCUC continues to operate and provide efficient regulation of the province’s public utilities.
Owen Bird represents the Commercial Energy Consumers Association of British Columbia (the “CEC”) in proceedings before the BCUC and has done so for over 15 years. For over 15 years, the CEC has advocated for and represented the interests of commercial customers paying utility rates under commercial tariffs in BCUC proceedings.