You assumed position as Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Members of Public Utility Tribunals (CAMPUT) in 2018. Tell me a bit about your work before CAMPUT.
My entire career has been involved with energy and regulation. I have worked for governments, oil and gas companies, utilities and public interest groups. I’ve really seen the sector from every angle and it is endlessly fascinating.
I became the Executive Director of CAMPUT in 2018, but I was not new to CAMPUT. From 2004 to 2014, I was at the Ontario Energy Board as a Member, Vice-Chair, and Interim Chair and CEO. During that time, I served as CAMPUT Chair, so I was very familiar with the work CAMPUT does to promote excellence in regulation. I am excited to support that mission now as Executive Director.
You have an interesting perspective representing provincial and territorial regulators. What is the one thing all regions have in common? And what is the biggest difference?
CAMPUT has a small and diverse membership, but all our members are facing issues around climate change policy, disruption from new technologies and changing customer expectations, as well as concerns about affordability.
What varies among CAMPUT members is how they can respond to these issues. Some members have broad decision-making powers, including rate setting, rules and licensing. Others are limited to making recommendations to government. The membership also varies widely in terms of resources. Some CAMPUT members have hundreds of staff, while others have only a handful. CAMPUT supports its members by sharing information, best practices, and resources.
“We are seeing the potential for new technologies to fundamentally change the structure of the sector.”
The Canadian Gas Association is interested in how you see the natural gas discussion evolving and what is on the horizon for the industry?
The conversation around natural gas is really interesting. Deregulation and increased competition in the sector resulted in an integrated North American market that has served customers well in terms of security and affordability. However, the situation is changing for natural gas. We are assessing the implications of climate change on the future of all fossil fuels.
The natural gas sector has been effective in communicating some of the issues around wide-scale de-carbonization, in terms of cost and reduced diversity. And we see the sector taking the challenge seriously as it seeks to decarbonize its operations through technologies like renewable natural gas.
There are going to be tough issues around our response to the climate challenge and its long-term implications for the natural gas sector. Depending on government policy, regulators may have to wrestle with issues like depreciation and stranded assets in new ways.
As Canada looks to deliver on both affordable energy and environmental objectives, tell me how your members balance this challenging set of public policy priorities in their work.
Affordability and climate change are both front of mind for customers and politicians – and regulators, too.
The time-frame is a challenge – for customers and politicians, affordability is often an immediate concern – they are focused on where prices are right now. Regulators work to protect the interests of both current and future customers. Regulators want to drive efficiency through incentives and rigorous evaluations, while also incenting appropriate investments for the future.
We are seeing upward pressure on electricity rates from replacing aging infrastructure and adding new infrastructure to accommodate new resources. We are also seeing the potential for new technologies to fundamentally change the structure of the sector. Each regulator will address the issues within the context of their jurisdiction. Two regulators, the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Ontario Energy Board, are examining the implications of the changing sector on how utilities should be regulated. These processes can bring forth the best ideas and evidence to inform decision-making.
Energy regulation plays a fundamental but often ‘out of sight’ role in Canada. Do we need to do more to raise the profile of energy regulatory matters and if so, do you have any priority areas of focus?
We often discuss this amongst the membership. Should regulators be more “high profile”?
Regulators don’t want to be household names, but they need to maintain a reputation for thoughtful decision-making, open and transparent processes, and effective stakeholder engagement. Regulators want to be trusted long-term institutions which operate separately from political decision-making.
To achieve that level of trust, regulators work to enhance confidence in the regulatory process and decision-making. CAMPUT and its members are pursuing a number of initiatives, including:
Writing decisions in plain language, discussing decisions in ways that make them more easily understood by a broader audience, and enhancing public engagement with the regulatory process.
Collaborating with academics, thinktanks, and other organizations working on key issues. I’m thinking of Positive Energy at the University of Ottawa, the Energy Regulators’ Dialogue with the Public Policy Forum, the work of QUEST, and others.
Retaining the hallmarks of good regulatory process – openness, transparency, evidence-based decision-making – while exploring new and innovative processes like “sandboxes”.
Tell our readers something about you they may not know – a hobby, upcoming vacation, interest outside of energy regulation?
One of the best things I did last year was join a book club. I’ve always loved to read, but somehow never joined a book club. This month we’re reading The Overstory, by Richard Powers. It is a fascinating story about trees and people. I find myself looking at my backyard maples in a whole new way. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 – and I highly recommend it.
Cynthia Chaplin is Executive Director of CAMPUT, the association of Canada’s provincial, federal, and territorial energy and utility regulators. She has more than 30 years of experience as an energy economist, consultant, and regulator in Canada and the UK. Most recently, Cynthia served as Member, Vice-Chair, and Chair & CEO (interim) of the Ontario Energy Board (2004-2014), where she presided over complex multi-party oral hearings and policy consultations. She has also held senior positions with British Petroleum, Amoco and the United Kingdom’s gas regulator (Ofgas). Cynthia holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Toronto and the ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors.