The history of utilities in Alberta demonstrates just how important these utilities have become in our daily lives. In the case of electricity, for example, every area of industry would be negatively affected by a power failure of any significant duration. Schools could be lit by sunlight and homes with lanterns, but what about hospitals? Modern residential homes are not equipped for year-round living in the north without the utilities that protect their internal infrastructure from freezing.
The practical benefits of artificial lighting extended the workday and alleviated the health concerns associated with breathing their smoky by-product, but its impact was so much greater than that. Along with rail systems, telecommunications and natural gas, electricity played a major role in facilitating the development of a newer, modern form of economy with reliable utility access and a new way of life for Albertans.
In 1915, Albertans began to insist that their governments guarantee access to utilities because utility accessibility, as it was, was fraught with problems. Refusal of service, overcharges and inconsistency in consumer treatment was a problem that had risen as a result of utility monopolies, and the people wanted protection from their predatory and opportunistic leanings. The solution? The Board of Public Utilities was created using the Board of Railway Commissioners, in place since 1905, as a design influence.
The responsibilities of the Board of Public Utilities became a mix of judicial, administrative and legislative scope, and provinces across Canada were adopting semi-judicial regulators simultaneously. By 1948, both electricity and telecommunications were made crown corporations in many provinces and a plebiscite was held to let Albertans decide whether to accept a similar fate for their own electrical utilities. By a narrow margin, the proposal to make the change to a crown corporation was rejected.
Fast forward to 1996 – the Electric Utilities Act was instituted by the Alberta government, allowing it to deregulate electricity. For the purposes of oversight, five agencies were created with a view to add a regulatory component to this market-based system.
Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO)
The AESO is an independent not-for-profit agency with no ownership of any assets, but it does oversee the Alberta Interconnected Electric System and Balancing Pool. The AESO works with involved parties such as retailers, generators and transmission facilities (like ATCO, and EPCOR) but does not have any punitive authority.
The Balancing Pool was created to predict profit and revenue, determine policies, and to determine the level of authority that the AESO has. The Balancing Pool implemented the concept of the ‘power pool’ to represent the wholesale price of power based on their lowest commodity price combined with current demand. All energy that is bought and sold in Alberta is processed through the power pool. Commodity pricing is evaluated on a minute-by-minute basis and updates to pricing occur hourly.
Alberta Utilities Commission
The AUC regulates distribution and transmission of utilities and determines the rules and regulations that will govern the electricity market. They replaced the Electricity Utilities Board, and when they did so, a Regular Rate Option was introduced. The RRO is the wholesale cost of utilities and there are 5 RRO providers in Alberta.
Market Surveillance Administrator
The Market Surveillance Administrator of Alberta is responsible for ensuring oversight of the electricity market and ensures that the market remains competitive. The MSA also has punitive authority over the entities that it surveils.
Utilities Consumer Advocate
Perhaps the most important agency from a consumer standpoint is the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA). The UCA first began in 2006 to offer education, mediation and advocacy to Alberta’s utility consumers including: small businesses, residential consumers, and farms. The agency is mandated to provide services to end-users related to water, power and/or natural gas.
The UCA is your one-stop-shop for all your questions about everything from how to lodge a dispute to how to connect services in your new home. We are proud to be featured on the UCA website for our competitive pricing, and we welcome new Burst members who found us there.
Agencies like the UCA put customers first where their utilities are concerned. Customers in financial distress or who need reconnection to services can go to the UCA website to gather resources and next steps. When a dispute arises, the UCA may provide mediation services or, if concerns of a broader nature are identified, the UCA may speak on your behalf at a hearing or forum – both of which are publicly accessible on their website at: ucahelps.alberta.ca
Burst is proud to be among those recognized on the UCA website and we continue to stick to our promise to keep utilities simple. Do you know someone who would like to start saving on their monthly utility bills? See www.burstenergy.ca for up-to-date pricing information and get a free utility quote.