The Barbados Light and Power Company (BLPC) will be able to exclude information it deems confidential or unnecessary to determining if consumers should pay more for electricity, in its upcoming rate hearing before the Fair Trading Commission (FTC).
That decision of the FTC, published on Friday, follows a confidentiality hearing involving the BL&P and its legal counsel and representatives from the Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA), the Energy Division and the Business Development Division of the Ministry of Energy held on June 29.
The five-member Commission led by Deputy FTC Chairman Dr Donley Carrington and including Dr John Griffith, Ruan Martinez, Samuel Wallerson and Dr Simon Naitram, deemed that withholding the information would not disadvantage the public or the intervenors who have opposed the BLPC’s request for a rate increase.
The power company itself had withdrawn some of its initial requests to keep certain documents private.
The public utilities regulator said: “In each case, the Commission has balanced the public interest for and against disclosure of the information which the applicant requested be held in confidence. Where the Commission has determined that the information should be held in confidence, the Commission was not persuaded that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the reasons which underscored the request for confidentiality.
“Further, the Commission is of the view that holding the information in confidence would not cause an injustice or otherwise create a disadvantage to the intervenors in the prosecution of their cases in the substantive rate hearing.”
Written objections to the request for confidentiality were filed by five intervenors in the rate review application. These include BREA, the Energy Division, the Business Development Division; Kenneth Went and the team of attorney-at-law Tricia Watson and chartered accountant David Simpson.
The BLPC had made its requests on three documents submitted to the Commission. These are: Proposed Draft Operational Licenses, which include a Generation & Energy Storage Licence, a Transmission, Distribution and Sales Licence and a Dispatch Licence; the System Expansion Plan and Five-Year Investment Plan.’
The intervenors made the case that the documents were needed to enable them to understand and assess the issues to be raised at the hearing of the rate review application.
Insisting that the disclosure was in the public’s best interest, they contended that the information was central to justifying the power company’s revenue requirements and must be analysed by the parties to the rate review application.
The Energy Division of the Ministry of Energy had actually agreed with the Draft Operational Licenses remaining confidential.
However, the utility company had withdrawn its claims for those particular documents to be held in confidence by the Commission on the basis that “if released, [it] would not harm any party or result in the applicant [BLPC] being at a competitive disadvantage”.
This position was challenged by the Energy Division on the grounds that the Division and the BLPC are engaged in other discussions which may impact the final versions of the Draft Operational Licences and that to disclose those drafts to the public “would be to furnish it with information that is subject to change, which may be construed as misleading”.
However, the FTC ruled: “The Commission is of the view that the Draft Operational Licences are neither necessary for, nor relevant to, the determination of any new rate which may be implemented after the completion of the hearing of the rate review application.
“As the applicant withdrew its request that the Draft Operational Licences be held in confidence pursuant to Rule 13 of the URPR, there is no request for confidentiality of the Draft Operational Licences for the Commission to determine. The Energy Division has not made a request under Rule 13 of the URPR [Utilities Regulation (Procedural) Rules] or otherwise for the Draft Operational Licences to be held in confidence. The Commission therefore concludes that there is no request before the Commission for the Draft Operational Licences to be held in confidence,” it added.
On the matter of the five-year investment plan, the BLPC had also pulled back its request for confidentiality.
With respect to the remaining document, the Systems Expansion Plan, the power company said it was prepared to disclose significant portions of the plan.
However, it said certain sections should be withheld because they related to the security of the national grid and information which relates to the cost of renewable energy and battery storage projects that it will have to bid for in the future.
The Commission favoured the company’s positions, deeming that the information is confidential and raises an issue of grid security. It also noted that the information relates to renewable energy and storage projects and this could create a competitive disadvantage for the BLPC.
The FTC has therefore ordered the BLPC to amend its rate review application by removing or deleting the Draft Operational Licences, and to amend the Five-Year Investment Plan for Generation and Transmission.
It also said the specific pages of the System Expansion Plan for which the BLPC requested confidentiality will be redacted and held in confidence by the Commission.
The FTC added that all other pages for which confidentiality was not requested for the System Expansion Plan should be released to the public.
The amendments must be filed on or before August 5.
In September 2021, BLPC filed a rate review application, saying the increase in rates was critical for the company’s viability. It asked for an interim rate relief until a final decision was made on the main request.