Group fights electrification decision

A turf fight between the Central Alberta Rural Electrification Association (CAREA) and FortisAlberta is like a wolf watching over the chicken coop, says a Wildrose Party MLA.

A turf fight between the Central Alberta Rural Electrification Association (CAREA) and FortisAlberta is like a wolf watching over the chicken coop, says a Wildrose Party MLA.

The comments come after a recent decision from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) that denied CAREA’s application to have exclusive rights to a service area.

“This government has engaged in systematic policy in allowing the powerful companies to prey on the individual REAs (Rural Electrification Associations) and eat them up,” Rocky-Rimbey-Sundre MLA and Wildrose utilities critic Joe Anglin said on Monday.

CAREA is a member-owned company, providing a power distribution system that serves approximately 8,300 members within 16 Alberta counties, spanning from the Municipal District of Bighorn in the south, all the way north to Yellowhead County.

“We wanted a legal opinion that our service area was rightfully ours and we wanted the utilities commission to give us an answer,” said Central Alberta REA chairman Jim Towle.

“It is confusing for us when they say that you don’t have rights to your area, you have to share it with Fortis and compete for customers,” Towle said on Monday.

But FortisAlberta, an investor-owned electricity utility and wire service provider, says the decision from AUC confirms that they are the “primary electricity distribution service provider within CAREA’s service territory.”

“Their application was to be the exclusive electricity distribution service provider for customers who are in our overlapping service area,” said FortisAlberta director of communications Jennifer MacGowan.

This doesn’t sit well with Towle, who said Alberta’s electricity market has become a story of David and Goliath. He says it took the AUC two years to decide to turn down their application.

There are many reasons the Alberta Utilities Commission, a utilities sector regulator, denied the application, said spokesperson Jim Law.

He said at the core of the issue is that CAREA’s request would have been contrary to the legislation in place.

“The REA was seeking to have the right but not the obligation to serve customers and its request would have forced consumers to become members of the REA, which has always been a voluntary decision,” Law said.

CAREA is seeking legal advice to determine if the decision should be appealed.

But Anglin doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for REAs in general.

“The problem is that the government has created a system where the REAs are at a disadvantage and it is as simple as that,” he said.

jjones@bprda.wpengine.com

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