Former PUB chair worries government’s review will lack transparency, allow details to be sanitized
A former chair of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) is questioning the provincial government’s decision to pay for an independent review of the electrical system while the PUB conducts its own investigation into the cause of recent blackouts that affected most of Newfoundland.
All three smokestacks at the Holyrood generating station were venting exhaust recently. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
David Vardy said he did not expect the provincial government would make such a move following a recent plethora of power outages that started as rotating ones but later affected more than half of Newfoundland Power’s customers.
“The PUB has a statutory responsibility to take this on, and government should allow them to take this on and let them get on with it as opposed to doing another review, because we think the PUB are the people to do this,” said Vardy, who co-authored a letter to the editor with former provincial deputy minister of justice Ron Penney published in today’s edition of The Telegram.
A transformer fire on Jan. 4 at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro’s Sunnyside terminal station caused a massive outage. Power was restored to most Newfoundland Power customers the following day, with all reportedly back on the grid by Tuesday, though there have been intermittent outages since then.
Nalcor Energy has also indicated it plans to conduct an internal review in light of recent events.
In Vardy’s view, the government’s plan to have its own independent review is more about serving government’s agenda and pre-empting the PUB’s work.
“They want to try and gain control of the agenda by selecting an outside person,” he said. “They use the term ‘independent,’ and ... we’re not sure if the person selected will be really independent and how much control they will have.”
Vardy suggests examples from the past where terms of reference for energy-related reviews were not disclosed would indicate the province may not make matters as transparent as the public would hope.
“The problem we have is that we want things to be transparent, and the experience we’ve had so far is a lack of transparency,” Vardy said. “With the Public Utilities Board, what they do will be transparent, because they will have an open public hearing and people will have an opportunity to look at what’s done.
“If they have experts, reports from the experts will be subject to cross examination by people that have standing at the hearing. That won’t happen if it’s done by government, because I don’t think they have any intention of having a hearing. What you’ll end up with is a consultant doing a report on behalf of government, and government will have the ability to — quote — sanitize it.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday after announcing plans for the independent review, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she had full confidence in the PUB, but also noted that the regulator will be amongst those groups subject to the independent review.
“You can’t ask somebody to investigate themselves,” she told reporters, adding it may take six weeks for details of the review to become fully formed.