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Ensuring regulated utilities comply with AUC decisions, orders, rules and relevant legislation
The AUC ensures Alberta’s energy service providers are accountable for the services they provide, how they deliver those services and how they interact with customers.
The AUC can address pre-defined rule contraventions through a series of set fines called specified penalties. These are financial penalties or fines that are applied when the AUC concludes contraventions have occurred and a penalty is required. They are comparable to speeding tickets, or parking tickets. These financial penalties increase as the frequency of the contraventions increase. No lengthy proceeding is required. The AUC can issue specified penalties escalating from $500 per incident, per day. Specified penalties became effective January 1, 2019.
The AUC can levy fines and issue public notices when electricity or natural gas service providers contravene AUC rules on utility billing, complaint response and other areas. The AUC considers and weighs the circumstances of each situation.
The AUC has a range of enforcement tools. Completely separate from specified penalties, the AUC can also issue, after a formal, evidence-based proceeding, administrative penalties that can range up to $1 million per incident per day.
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The AUC sets out how specified penalties will be applied in AUC Rule 032: Specified Penalties for Contravention of AUC Rules. This rule includes factors the AUC will consider when determining specified penalties that include self-reporting by energy service providers. AUC Rule 032 also includes a penalties table outlining the dollar amount charged to energy service providers for each penalty.
The AUC was given the power to levy specified penalties for contraventions of its rules, orders and decisions through Bill 13, An Act to Secure Alberta’s Energy Future. It intends to develop and apply specified penalties for many areas of its regulatory oversight.
The AUC issued Bulletin 2019-12 in July 2019 announcing an updated evaluation process for the assessment of specified penalties for self-reported contraventions.
Enforcement of Alberta’s laws, rules and regulations around how utilities operate, including the protection of utility consumers, is a central and important part of the work of the Alberta Utilities Commission – and it is work we take seriously.
In June 2018, the AUC received enhanced powers to backstop these responsibilities by developing and issuing specified penalties related to any of its decision instruments (decisions, orders, rulings, rules, etc.). The AUC’s expanded powers flowed from Bill 13, An Act to Secure Alberta’s Energy Future. Previously, AUC penalties could only be applied, where warranted, following a formal AUC proceeding process.
Specified penalties are set financial sanctions imposed for infractions of the AUC’s rules, orders, decisions and rulings. Generally they would apply to less egregious contraventions. The AUC also has the ability to impose administrative penalties of up to $1 million per day per infraction. The largest such penalty imposed was $52 million.
The changes in part reflected a desire by government to streamline the process and effort required for the AUC to deal with contraventions of utilities service quality requirements. Those requirements are incorporated in AUC Rule 002 and AUC Rule 003, which deal with electricity and natural gas distributors, and regulated rate and default supply providers. The AUC has worked collaboratively with stakeholders to shape and refine how specified penalties work.
The AUC’s initial focus was on reviewing, and where necessary, revising the AUC’s settlement system codes, which set out the requirement and obligations of companies involved in customer enrolment and de-enrolment. Matters related to AUC Rule 021: Settlement System Code Rules and AUC Rule 28: Natural Gas Settlement System Code Rules were the source of many complaints to the AUC.
The review has been focused on the responsibilities of retailers and distributors around customer and site information, and has been informed by AUC staff experience in dealing with customer care and billing issues, input by the Utilities Consumer Advocate, stakeholders (particularly those who form the update customer information (UCI) working group.) UCI transactions are one of the few areas related to the delivery of utilities that involve retailers directly and closely.
The AUC is considering the development of specified penalties in other areas of the AUC’s responsibilities.