(CMR) The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) to release the Caribbean Utilities Company's Incremental Distributed Solar Study (2023) and the full 2014 CUC Cost of Service Study, a document produced by CUC to justify proposals to increase base electricity rates.
The decision was made after an applicant under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) sought access to records created by Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC) on fuel efficiency and cost of service. The records were provided to and held by the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) in its statutory role as Cayman’s electricity sector regulator.
OfReg provided the applicant with a portion of a 2014 CUC Cost of Service Study; however, most of the document was withheld from release. The second record, the Incremental Distributed Solar Study (2023), was withheld entirely. OfReg stated that the disclosure of the records would prejudice CUC’s commercial interests in an upcoming bidding process for renewable energy generation.
In FOIA hearing decision 103, the Ombudsman found that OfReg had not demonstrated the relevance of the records to the bidding process, nor the potential harm to commercial interests that might be caused by releasing them. The Ombudsman also noted the information is intended to be disclosed by OfReg when the bidding process for renewable energy generation goes ahead.
Further, the Ombudsman, Sharon Roulstone, noted a general concern about how the proposed bidding process for renewable energy generation was being conducted.
“It appears that one bidder (CUC), which already holds a monopoly position in terms of the sale of electricity, is co-designing the specifications of the request for proposal for an upcoming bidding process, in which they, themselves, will be an interested party. In my mind, this has the appearance of a conflict of interest,” the hearing decision stated.
“It may be fairer in these circumstances to ask whether disclosure of the responsive records…would be more likely to undermine, or rather enhance effective and fair competition, given that one party already seems to have an advantage,” the decision continued.
Both records were ordered to be released in full. The Ombudsman found disclosure of the two records cannot reasonably be expected to destroy or diminish information of a commercial value, nor would the release prejudice the commercial interests of any person or organization.
Although a public interest test was not required, Roulstone also found that it would be in the public interest to disclose the records. A small section of the 2014 Cost of Service Study remains redacted due to personal information contained therein.
The Ombudsman’s decision is subject to judicial review within 45 days of its release.
The full text of the decision may be found here: https://ombudsman.ky/images/pdf/decisions/FOI_Decisions/Hearing%20103-202300443.pdf
Anyone wishing to appeal a government decision of an FOI request may contact the Office of the Ombudsman via phone at 946-6283 or via email at [email protected]. Their website, www.ombudsman.ky also has much more information about the open records process in the Cayman Islands.