Written by Marie Buchinski and Stephanie Ridge
On April 7, 2020, the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) announced interim changes to its participant involvement program (PIP) guidelines and information requirements. The adjustments announced in Bulletin 2020-13 are intended mitigate the risk of COVID-19. The bulletin follows the AUC's March 17, 2020 decision to defer all live proceedings, consultations and information sessions (Bulletin 2020-06) and close its physical offices in Edmonton and Calgary (Bulletin 2020-07).
PIP guidelines establish the requirements that an applicant must comply with when developing and implementing its PIP for electric and gas facility applications. Project applications for power plants, substations, transmission lines, industrial system designations, and hydro developments, and applications for need identification documents, must comply with the PIP guidelines contained in AUC Rule 007: Applications for Power Plants, Substations, Transmission Lines, Industrial System Designations and Hydro Developments. Gas utility pipeline applications must comply with the PIP guidelines set out in AUC Rule 020: Rules Respecting Gas Utility Pipelines.
Revised PIP Requirements
The bulletin announces three important revisions to the PIP requirements:
- Project proponents must now give stakeholders a minimum of 30 days to receive, consider and respond to project notifications. This adjustment doubles the 14 calendar days previously required pursuant to Rules 007 and 020.
- Face-to-face consultation is discouraged unless it can be undertaken in compliance with physical distancing. This adjustment relieves proponents from the need to conduct the face-to-face consultation typically encouraged by Rules 007 and 020, unless it is safe to do so. Public open houses and town hall meetings are not to be held as part of a PIP. The bulletin also recognizes the validity of other means of communicating for consultation purposes, including phone, email, or videoconferencing.
- No requirement for proponent to provide AUC with mailing labels for stakeholders included in PIP. Rather than providing the AUC with mailing labels, proponents are now required to file with their project applications an Excel spreadsheet that lists stakeholder contact information, with the information separated into columns for name/company name, address, city, province, postal code and country.
The bulletin appears to codify current practices, as the AUC notes that most applicants have recently made necessary modifications to their PIP practices in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The bulletin also confirms that a number of Indigenous consultation offices are closed or are working at reduced capacity. Although the AUC acknowledges that engaging community members and leadership may be difficult, it encourages proponents to continue to reach out to understand a community’s circumstances and availability to discuss a proposed project. The AUC encourages sensitivity in the circumstances and requests that applicants build extra time into their PIPs where possible.
Timelines and Next Steps
All adjustments announced by the Bulletin are effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice.
We will continue to monitor ongoing developments as the AUC and other regulators implement measures to address the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Should have you have questions as to how these changes affect you or the schedule for your Project, please contact the Bennett Jones Regulatory group. In addition, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre for other COVID-19-related materials.