A report arrived at Council today on how any future decisions would be made regarding the sale or transfer of major assets still in EPCOR that Edmontonians depend on. The report responded to a motion I put forward in the summer asking for this information. [Download the report here.]
[Clarification added Oct 3: Just to be clear, I asked these questions as a hypothetical. There are no proposals that I'm aware of to sell EPCOR as a whole or any part of the Water, Wastewater or Electricity Distribution & Transmission assets in Edmonton. The Capital Power spin-off was it.]
In a nutshell, the city regulates water and wastewater, and as regulator approval would be required if ownership of the potable water plants, the water pipes, or the wastewater plant were proposed to change. This decision would come to a council meeting.
Furthermore, even though Electricity distribution is regulated by the province, there is a franchise agreement in place for the use of right of way for power lines and any change to this agreement would also have to come to council for approval. Electricity transmission assets (high voltage) are treated differently in terms of regulation and other legalities, so the sale of such might not come to a Council meeting.
The report indicates that EPCOR would also need to seek approval from its shareholder (also the City), which it normally would do at a closed meeting, to sell any major assets.
So what we’ve learned is that the process might start behind closed doors between company and shareholder, but in the case of the utilities that people have expressed concern to me about losing (namely, water, wastewater and power distribution) there would be a Council debate on the matter – one would hope that this would not occur in private.
Councillor Henderson proposed a motion aimed at changing some of the governing documents to explicitly require that there be a Council meeting to consider any proposed sale of major assets in Edmonton, but it was defeated 7 to 5. I supported his motion.
In fairness, there was disagreement among councillors about the practical realities of owning a competitive business, and how this conflicts with our desire for transparency as elected officials. In this instance I leaned toward transparency going forward, having learned a valuable lesson about what a relative lack of transparency in the Capital Power decision process led to in terms of confusion and angst among the public.