As I write, the fate of Canada’s energy and safety regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB), is uncertain.
In December 2016, a five member expert panel was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to review a “focused set of issues related to the Board’s structure, role and mandate, [which] will aim to position the NEB as a modern, efficient and effective energy regulator and regain public trust.”1
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The panel presented its findings and recommendations in a report on 15 May to Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Jim Carr, where it summarised methods of modernising the NEB. The report looks at replacing the NEB with a new energy commission: the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission (CETC).
The CETC would be governed by a board of directors and, while it would still carry out many of the NEB’s current regulations, it would not be able to generate or examine energy data. Instead, the panel suggests introducing a new Canadian Energy Information Agency (CEIA), which would be responsible for providing organisations and the public with energy information and evaluations.
Both CETC and CEIA would then partner to assess the technical and environmental elements of proposed energy projects. This will essentially separate project regulation and reviews from the analysis and production of energy-related information.
However, prior to any licensing or reviews, major projects must be assessed by the Federal Cabinet. The Cabinet must determine whether or not each energy project is in the national interest. This is expected to take approximately one year, and would then be followed by a thorough project review. The report noted that, “at this stage, ‘yes’ means ‘yes, subject to further regulatory approval after a detailed project review’, and ‘no’ means ‘no’.”1
The expert panel also advocates moving the regulator from its current location in Calgary to Ottawa, the base of Canada’s parliament. This move would supposedly incorporate Ottawa’s energy policy and outlook on the environment and economy. The report stated: “We heard intense and near-unanimous criticism of the current requirement that board members reside in the Calgary area. […] We do agree entirely that Canada’s energy transmission infrastructure regulator needs a stronger connection to the seat of the federal government.”
This proposed change of regulatory body aims to serve as a hub for energy information, similar to the US Energy Information Administration.
Nevertheless, the panel’s recommendations have been met with opposition. Lesley Matthews, Owner of Polaris Solutions Inc., believes that the government’s interference is affecting the NEB’s regulatory performance, and that changes should be made to ensure that the government is not able to overturn the Board’s decision, unless through the federal court. Matthews reportedly stated: “What’s the point of going through this process of having people present evidence and having the decision made on evidence if it can just be made on non-evidence.”2
This change in regulator is not a decision that should be made lightly. It will affect not only proposed energy projects, but the entire nation. Currently, the Canadian government is accepting online comments regarding the panel’s recommendations, which will conclude on 14 June. So, is it time for change? Only time will tell.