Critics argue closely parallel power lines could multiply the damage of a disaster

Questions over the prevalence of tornadoes and the impact they would have on new power lines and towers surfaced during Monday’s hearing into a major transmission project running through Central Alberta.

Questions over the prevalence of tornadoes and the impact they would have on new power lines and towers surfaced during Monday’s hearing into a major transmission project running through Central Alberta.

Calgary lawyer Raymond Bastedo, representing the Gleniffer Lake group of 10 landowners, spoke during the third day of the Alberta Utilities Commission hearing into AltaLink’s proposed $1.4-billion power line project between the Edmonton and Calgary areas.

The hearing continues today at the Holiday Inn on 67th Street.

Bastedo’s group is part of the Red Route Coalition that’s opposed to AltaLink’s preferred route. This route is generally on the west side of Hwy 2 while the alternate route is mainly on the east side.

The preferred route would parallel one existing power line for 54 km and parallels two lines for 157 km. The alternate route parallels 51 km of existing lines, some of which are located on the north end where the preferred route runs as well.

The landowners near Gleniffer Lake, located 35 km west of Innisfail, are concerned with the impact of tornadoes and other major weather events.

When there’s a number of transmission lines twinned in a quarter section, there’s a greater likelihood that a tornado could have a severe impact in this area, Bastedo said.

The alternate route is primarily a greenfield route, meaning it doesn’t parallel a significant length of existing transmission lines.

“With the greenfield route, even if one of the lines went down, at least more than likely the others wouldn’t,” said Bastedo during a break in the proceedings. “As far as reliability, that’s why it’s important.”

Bastedo questioned AltaLink representatives over whether they had used extensive enough data over the probability of tornadoes.

“We have filed expert evidence by (two researchers) and both of those give much lower return periods (for tornado incidents),” said Bastedo.

Patrick McKenna, project director for Western Alberta Transmission Line of AltaLink, said Environment Canada data of tornadoes in Alberta over a 40-year period until 2009 was reliable. Of the 554 tornado events recorded in Alberta, only 28 were considered to be an intensity of F2 or higher. The majority are F0 (64-116 km/h wind speeds) and F1 (117-180 km/h).

“If you go back 100 years of data, the way that data is collected is a little bit suspect,” added Darin Watson, vice-president of Major Projects North for AltaLink.

As well, lines were put in service around the time that the Environment Canada data was started. And they haven’t had incidents regarding AltaLink towers, Watson added.

Alberta Electric, which plans and develops Alberta’s transmission system, directed AltaLink to design a system for a one in 100-year event combined for wind, wet and snow, McKenna said.

Brett Barclay, legal counsel for the Chinook Country Group, which is comprised of 24 families located from Crossfield to Olds, said the transmission line shouldn’t be added at all. This group is also part of the Red Route Coalition.

“They should consider the public interests, given the social and economic effects of the line,” Barclay said. “The benefits aren’t there.”

But otherwise, if it does get approved, the alternate route is the better solution, Barclay added.

“The alternate route affects fewer people, less development.”

AltaLink reports it chose the preferred route because it “most effectively minimizes or mitigates impacts” because, among other reasons, it crosses the last amount of cultivate land, has low environmental impact and parallels 211 km of existing lines.

If approvals are given by the end of this year, construction could start in the first or second quarter of 2013 and would take about two years to complete.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com