Electricity Act to provide greater protection for consumers
ELECTRICITY consumers are set to benefit from greater protection under the Electricity Act, following acceptance of a proposal by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to have its powers and functions in relation to the electricity sector included in the revised legislation.
The proposal was accepted by members of the joint select committee reviewing the Act at its meeting on Thursday.
In its recommendation the OUR said that, at the very least, a general rate-setting power for the electricity sector could be included in the Electricity Act, as well as specific reference to the powers of the OUR that are now set out in the OUR Act.
“For example, the Electricity Act could explicitly cross reference the OUR’s ability to exercise the powers under sections 4,8,9 and 10 of the OUR Act — that is the power to set rates in the sector, issue directives and memorandum [to licensees], require information, and to conduct investigations etcetera,” the OUR stated in its submission to the committee.
The OUR is recommending that under the Electricity Act, they be able to set and regulate prices and tariffs; investigate and mediate disputes/complaints between licensees, customers and service provider(s); determine matters related to compensation; see to the safety and protection of consumers; and undertake enquiries into the activities of licensees.
The regulatory body’s Deputy Director General Cheryl Lewis explained to committee members that the OUR’s recommendation is based on convenience for the electricity sector.
“Oftentimes we find in our interaction with investors and other interested parties, we have to be pointing them to the various pieces of legislation in order to find the complete powers of the OUR, so it would be convenient to have it in one single place — a sector-specific legislation similar to that of the Telecommunications Act,” Lewis said.
However, Opposition committee member Senator Janice Allen, and Government members Sherene Golding Campbell and Senator Dr Dana Morris Dixon all queried the additional provisions that were being recommended in relation to the responsibilities of the regulatory body that are not in the OUR Act.
Lewis responded to say that some of the OUR’s functions included in the recommendation are not stated in the OUR Act in explicit terms because the Act was promulgated in 1995.
“So this presents an opportunity for the OUR to include a more comprehensive approach of its powers that we exercise explicitly and by implication, so it would provide an opportunity to put all of that together. So, in both senses, they will have a complete, sector-specific legislation,” she said.
Lewis further explained that the OUR Act is a constituent Act for the body itself, but in respect of the electricity sector there may be particular things in the electricity sector that require the OUR to assume that responsibility, and so it can be empowering.
She said that, under law, once there is a sector-specific legislation, it takes precedence over general provisions of an Act and would thus override it in interpretation.
“So, if we want OUR to take on additional powers that are not in the OUR Act, then legislation can so provide — and in its interpretation it will override anything that is generally set out in the OUR Act,” she said.