The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) continues to rapidly introduce changes intended to facilitate implementation of the Green Energy and the Green Economy Act (GEGEA). In May 2009, it issued a notice to amend the Distribution System Code to enhance the generation connection process, proposing measures aimed at removing the backlog of generation projects in the current queue. Earlier this month, the OEB issued a further notice to amend the Distribution System Code in order to reduce the costs that renewable generators pay to connect to the distribution system (this follows on similar proposed amendments to the Transmission System Code). Most recently, on June 10, 2009, OEB staff issued a discussion paper aimed at facilitating investment in distribution and transmission infrastructure by dramatically changing current cost recovery treatment.
The stated purpose of the discussion paper entitled Staff Discussion on the Regulatory Treatment of Infrastructure Investment for Ontario's Electricity Transmitters and Distributors (Discussion Paper) is to fulfill the objectives of the GEGEA by incentivizing investment in distribution and infrastructure while ensuring that the interests of ratepayers continue to be protected. The Discussion Paper draws heavily on FERC's Rule 679, Promoting Transmission Investment through Pricing Reform, by identifying a range of mechanisms for alternative cost treatment of infrastructure investment, some or all of which could be applied in the context of a cost of service review, a multi-year rate adjustment mechanism or a specific rate application (or in the course of approving distributors' or transmitters' infrastructure investment plans as mandated by the GEGEA). The alternative mechanisms for cost recovery identified in the Discussion Paper include recovery of costs for abandoned facilities, accelerated cost recovery, the inclusion of construction work in progress (CWIP) in rate base, accelerating depreciation and providing for incentive-based ROE.
Similarly, in accordance with FERC's view, OEB staff suggest that beyond identifying certain investments that would be presumed to qualify for alternative cost treatment, it is not appropriate to be more prescriptive. Staff suggest that establishing more prescriptive criteria would limit flexibility by pre-judging which projects are eligible for alternative treatment and limiting the ability of applicants to request a combination of alternative cost mechanisms. Accordingly, staff suggest that the Board "should exercise its discretion to allow alternative treatment on a case-by-case basis for appropriate infrastructure investments by electricity transmitters and distributors in a manner that facilitates the achievement of the Government's policy objectives as reflected in the GEGEA while protecting the interests of ratepayers".
OEB staff have outlined 26 issues for written comment. These issues include the appropriateness of the foregoing alternative cost mechanisms and whether the OEB should be more prescriptive as to which types of investments qualify for alternative treatment and which do not. Staff have asked that written comments be filed by July 7, 2009 and have outlined the framework for cost award eligibility.