For Immediate release
Hartley Bay, BC, September 20, 2023
BC Hydro ordered to refund $693,000 plus interest to Gitga’at First Nation due to unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory practices Monday, September 18, 2023 a Panel of the British Columbia Utilities Commission ordered BC Hydro to refund $693,000 plus interest to the Gitga’at First Nation (GFN).
The Panel found that with respect to an annual charge imposed upon GFN by BC Hydro in an Electricity Service Agreement (ESA), GFN as a customer, was charged rates for electricity services which are unjust, unreasonable and unduly discriminatory contrary to the Utilities Commission Act.
In its lengthy and considered decision, in agreement with GFN’s assertions, the BCUC found it has jurisdiction to hear the complaint lodged by GFN, that the annual charge of $85,000 imposed on GFN by BC Hydro beyond Zone II rates was a rate, the rate was not approved by BCUC contrary to law, that the rate is unduly discriminatory, and that BCUC has the legislative authority to order a refund of the ill-gotten gains with interest. BC Hydro said the following in their submission to the BCUC: “BC Hydro submits that becoming the electricity service provider in the remote communities was consistent with BC Hydro’s commitment to develop and improve relationships with Indigenous communities and to advance reconciliation.
BC Hydro further submits that it intends to terminate the ESA (and other similar servicing agreements), subject to the outcome of this proceeding, and that this intention reflects, in part, BC Hydro’s commitment to advance reconciliation, develop and maintain mutually respectful relationships with Indigenous communities, and honour Indigenous perspectives.
BC Hydro is also working with Indigenous communities to implement the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and has requested that GFN provide input into its draft UNDRIP implementation plan.”
Teresa Robinson, Band Manager for the GFN, said, “The Gitga’at First Nation is pleased with the order and grateful for the detailed reasoned decision by the BCUC. However, there is much more work to be done to improve and develop respectful relationships and advance reconciliation with BC Hydro.” Since its inception in the 1960’s, BC Hydro took the position that providing electric service to remote First Nations communities was Canada’s fiduciary duty, not their duty.
In the GFN complaint, BC Hydro had argued the funds were a flow-through of funds paid by Canada, in effect being entitled to funds for the benefit of a First Nation community providing chronically under-funded municipal services to its residents. They noted in internal documentation that such a position would strain relationships.
The Panel made a recommendation: “The Panel acknowledges and applauds BC Hydro’s statement of its intention to terminate the ESA (and other similar servicing agreements), subject to the outcome of this proceeding, and that this intention reflects, in part, BC Hydro’s commitment to advance reconciliation, develop and maintain mutually respectful relationships with Indigenous communities, and honour Indigenous perspectives. However, the Panel notes that there are other Indigenous communities within the RCE Program that have paid or are still paying fees of a similar nature under similar agreements. In the meantime, the BCUC may wish to review all BC Hydro agreements with impacted Indigenous communities under the RCE Program to determine if further action should be taken to address this issue.” The Indigenous communities in question are Tsay Keh Dene, Kwadacha, Uchucklesaht (Ehthlateese), and Dease River (Good Hope Lake).
The GFN is a founding member of the newly established First Nations Non-Integrated Area Working Group with a mandate to engage with BC Hydro as it develops, for the BCUC, a Long- term Non-Integrated Area Resource Plan and NIA Diesel Reduction Strategy. GFN notes that much more work must be done if DRIPA and the imperative of CleanBC to reduce diesel by 80% by 2030 in remote communities is to be realized.
BC Hydro continues to take the position that small, isolated NIA First Nations develop and pay for clean energy projects to decarbonize their communities and that BC Hydro is entitled to subsume the benefit of any grants to do so. Teresa Robinson went on to say, “We have been trying to get off of diesel for 20 years. In 2012 we had an approved Development Plan for a hydroelectric project in our home watershed. We believed that when BC Hydro became our electricity provider they would stop burning diesel and support our clean energy project. Not yet.”