How to Create Energy and Water Watchdog Groups (EWWGs)
WHAT IS AN ENERGY AND WATER WATCHDOG GROUP?
An Energy and Water Watchdog Group (EWWG) is a citizen group created to watch over the companies that produce and provide energy and water to people for heating, electricity, and transportation and ensure they are acting in the public interest.
The method for forming EWWGs is based on the successful method used to form Citizen Utility Boards (CUBs) in the U.S.
A Citizen Utility Board (CUB) is an independent, non-profit, organization of residential energy and water utility ratepayers. CUBs exist in four states in the U.S., and the first CUB was organized in Wisconsin in 1979. CUBs advocate for fair electricity, oil, gas and water rates, and sensible energy policies before utility regulatory commissions, the government and the courts. Individual CUBs can be set up for each utility or one CUB can be set up to advocate for some or all utility ratepayers together.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUBs AND OTHER GROUPS?
The key to CUBs is the right, by law, to enclose a pamphlet in utility companies’ billing envelopes sent to individual household customers. This pamphlet informs consumers about the CUB and invites them to join for a nominal annual membership fee. “Piggybacking” the CUB pamphlet with the utility bills is a cheap and effective way to reach ratepayers. Today, the companies should be required to send out pamphlets to customers who still receive their bills by mail, and email notices to customers who receive their bills by email, with both the pamphlets and emails inviting customers to join the watchdog group.
According to a national survey, 64% of Canadians support the creation of CUB-like groups in Canada using the pamphlet method, while only 27% oppose it.
In addition, a national coalition made up of 31 citizen groups with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians supports the creation of CUB-like groups in Canada.
WHAT DO CUBs DO?
Every year, the utility companies spend millions to advocate for higher utility rates, and often also for developments that will waste energy and water. Ironically, the cost of the utilities’ advocacy is passed on to consumers through their utility bills. CUBs give ratepayers a way to fight back. By pooling their resources, CUB members hire their own professional staff of lawyers, lobbyists, and organizers to challenge unfair rate hikes and wasteful developments.
WHO CONTROLS CUBs?
Ratepayers who join a CUB control the group through the election of regional delegates and its board of directors. The board hires the CUB’s professional staff and determines the group’s policies. CUBs are democratic organizations.
HOW ARE CUBs FUNDED?
CUBs are funded by voluntary contributions from ratepayers. CUBs do not usually receive any government or utility funding.
HOW HAVE CUBs BEEN CREATED?
CUBs have been created by the government passing a law, or by an order of the state’s, province’s or country’s utility regulatory commission. Some action by the government is usually needed to require the utilities to enclose the CUB pamphlet in their billing envelopes, although it is possible that utility companies could volunteer to enclose the CUB pamphlet in their mailings to household ratepayers.
WHERE HAVE CUBs BEEN ESTABLISHED?
There are now CUBs in full operation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon, and a local CUB called UCAN in San Diego. The Wisconsin and Illinois CUBs were established by the state legislatures in 1979 and 1983 respectively. The Oregon CUB was approved in a binding referendum in November 1994. San Diego’s UCAN was set up by order of the state Public Utilities Commission in 1983.
WHAT IS THE TRACK RECORD OF CUBs?
CUBs have been very successful. For example, Illinois CUB has saved consumers more than $20 billion since 1983; Oregon CUB has saved consumers more than $8.5 billion; Wisconsin CUB has saved consumers more than $3 billion just since 2008; and UCAN San Diego has saved consumers more than $400 million. As well, all of the CUBs have advocated for sustainable energy policies.
HOW COULD EWWGs BE CREATED IN CANADA USING THE CUB METHOD?
Energy and Water Watchdog Groups (EWWGs) could be created in every Canadian province by the government passing a law, or by an order of the province’s utility regulatory commission. The government or regulatory commission would require the province’s utilities to enclose the EWWG pamphlet in their billing envelopes and send out an email notice to customers, although it is possible that utility companies could volunteer to enclose the EWWG pamphlet in their mailings to household ratepayers or send an email notice to ratepayers who receive their bills by email.
Given that the effects of the operations of energy and water utilities are connected to the production and use of energy for transportation, provincial governments could (and should) also require gas stations to hand out the EWWG pamphlet to drivers when the fill up, and also require public transportation companies to hand out the EWWG pamphlet to riders when the buy a ticket.
The pamphlet and email could also invite people to donate to a fund that any citizen organization that works on energy and water issues could apply to for funding. The fund would have a board made up of people who are involved in sustainable energy and water protection activities.
As well, provincial governments should increase the royalty that natural energy resource companies pay for using oil, gas and water and give that extra royalty amount to the citizen organization fund.
For example, if the Ontario government required energy and water utilities, and gas stations and public transportation companies to distribute the EWWG pamphlet and send out the email notice about the group, about 8 million Ontarians would receive the pamphlet or email. If only five percent joined the provincial EWWG or donated to the citizen organization fund, for $40 annually, it would have 400,000 members and an annual budget of $16 million. And an increase to energy resource royalties in Ontario could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars more in funding for sustainable energy and water citizen organizations.
With this broad base and funding, the EWWG would have resources needed to educate people about sustainable energy and water use, and to advocate for their concerns in government policy-making processes.
For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign