OEB Chair Address to Ottawa Chamber of Commerce (Dec. 7)

OEB Chair’s Rosemarie Leclair’s most recent major public address provides a clear view of her regulatory priorities and philosophy.

There are those who think that utility services should be simple and undemanding for consumers. Leclair takes the opposite view. She  identifies public ignorance as a key factor driving the performance of Ontario’s energy sector.

“I think consumer literacy around energy – or more importantly, the lack of it, is one of the most important issues facing the energy sector today.”

She tells us that fixing this ignorance is a top priority for her:

“Enabling energy literacy is an ambitious undertaking, but it is one that we believe is essential to aligning public policy, utility and consumer interests and maintaining consumer confidence in Ontario’s energy system.”

In her analysis of ongoing developments, consumers are playing a central role in energy sector innovation.

“Like the telecommunications sector before us, customers are becoming important catalysts for innovation in the energy system.”

As part of this major address, she shared her views of the recent U.S. election in replying to her own rhetorical question of why regulation is needed.

“Well, United States President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney battled out that question recently, making regulatory regimes a hot topic of debate. As you know, one side was saying that regulation ties the hands of industry, hindering their ability to work in a free market environment, and on the other side, we heard what happens when a sector is not properly regulated.”

On the question of any new or evolved thinking on the role of consumers arising since she switched hats from chairing a regulated utility to chairing that utility’s regulator, she had this to say:

“Now that I am at the Ontario Energy Board, my beliefs have not changed.”

Ms. Leclair speech was her first major public address since the damage incurred by some Ontario utilities due to Hurricane Sandy. Although she mentioned reliability several times, it was always in the context of trading off higher rates to achieve improved reliability. Nowhere did she hint at any concern regarding Toronto Hydro’s deliberate go-slow strategy for Sandy recovery and the implications for blacked out consumers who pay rates reflecting a level of recovery service that they did not receive.