A much-debated change in the way energy companies and utilities are regulated in Alberta is now in effect.

The Alberta Energy Resource Conservation Board and the Alberta Utilities Commission, which began operating Jan. 1, were created to replace the controversial Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.

The EUB was heavily criticized last year for hiring private investigators to spy on landowners involved in one of its hearings. 

The board disbanded its security unit as a result of the scandal and fired two employees. A senior manager in charge of corporate security also resigned.

Under the new arrangement, the ERCB will regulate the oil and gas industry, while the AUC will look after the distribution of electricity and natural gas in Alberta.

"It's to provide better focus to both organizations given the fact that in 2006 there were more than 60,000 applications," said ERCB spokesman Bob Curan.

Most Albertans won't notice any difference between the new organizations and the old one, he added.

Rural landowners and consumer groups fought the change and Bill 46, which brought about the separation of the two agencies. They worry it will make it more difficult for citizens to voice their concerns about new energy projects such as electricity lines or oil and gas wells.

In the end, the Conservative government pushed the changes through after a record-breaking, 22-hour debate last month.