The power industry itself is creating confusion about whether a massive transmission project is needed in Alberta, said one woman who attended a public information session in Red Deer Thursday.
“As a consumer I think it’s really confusing,” said Sandra Machell, who lives in Red Deer but also owns a family farm that was passed down to her west of Didsbury.
At one point, her land was targeted for transmission towers but was not on the final route chosen before the previous transmission application collapsed amid controversy two years ago.
“We have Enmax in Calgary saying we don’t really need a line. And the people here say they need it.”
Machell wants to see an independent review of Alberta’s power needs by a body with no stake in the outcome.
Need is a critical issue and she was disappointed not to see more information on that and other aspects of the $3 billion mega-project at the information session at the Red Deer Lodge, the last of 20 organized across the province.
Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) spokesman Dick Way said if Enmax was to go ahead with a new generation plant it would take some of the pressure of Alberta’s aging transmission system, especially in the south. But AESO is obligated to ensure power producers in the north also have access to the infrastructure they need to compete in the market.
“Our job is to ensure that all competitors have that opportunity,” said Way, senior director of strategic projects.
AESO remains convinced that the province needs to upgrade transmission infrastructure — which has not been significantly expanded since the 1980s — to meet future demand that is growing at a rate equivalent to add two cities the size of Red Deer each year. It predicts 11,000 megawatts of electricity, nearly the amount produced in Alberta today, will be needed over the next 20 years.
On its website, Enmax says, “While there is no doubt the province needs additional infrastructure to meet its growing demand for electricity, large transmission lines may not be the best choice.”
The company calls for a comprehensive review that looks at other options such as voluntarily reducing loads and new technologies before making a decision on whether new lines are needed.
AESO is proposing two high-capacity 500-kilovolt lines from Edmonton to Calgary are planned. One would run through a corridor that straddles Hwy 2, the other would be strung along a route further east, roughly in line with Castor and Hanna.
Comments gathered from the 20 information sessions will be compiled for a report this fall. Around the same time, Bill 50, which encourages the development of more transmission capacity, will be debated in the legislature.
Detailed studies will be undertaken, landowners consulted, tower sites and line routes chosen before the project goes before the Alberta Utilities Commission in the next nine to 15 months. If approved, construction would take about two years.
The information sessions have not proven big draws. About 30 people trickled in over three hours in Red Deer and only about 400 people in total attended the sessions.