New recommendations on building major power lines through the centre of Alberta simply rewrite the same old story, say people who have opposed the proposals.
On Monday, the Critical Transmission Review Committee released its report on proposals to build two 500-kilovolt power lines, including the Western Alberta Transmission Line to run from the generator at Genesee to a site at Langdon, east of Calgary. A second line, the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line, would run on through the east-central area of the province from Edmonton to Brooks.
The committee, set up to fulfil a promise by Alison Redford when she was in contention to replace Premier Ed Stelmach, reported that the previous plans pursued by the Alberta Electric System Operator are “reasonable” and urged that construction on both lines begin “as soon as possible.”
It also recommended, however, that the provisions of Bill 50 should be changed, taking the power for deciding which projects are critical away from cabinet and placing it back in the hands of the Alberta Utilities Commission.
Even that small change is a “smokescreen,” said Rimbey town councillor Joe Anglin, one of the Western line’s most vocal opponents and the Wildrose Party candidate for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.
“This one was a farce from the beginning,” Anglin said on Tuesday. “This was a political hack committee. They didn’t do anything objectively,” he said.
Every aspect of the committee’s report is a step backward, said Anglin, who challenged its figures concerning what it would cost Alberta ratepayers, both residential and commercial.
While the committee reported that residential consumers would pay $3 per month over the next 30 years to cover the construction costs, Anglin said its math doesn’t add up.
He predicts power consumers will pay up to eight times what they currently pay for the transmission portion of their monthly power bills.
Anglin based his math on the costs of construction estimated at $16 billion, which he said is eight times the value of the existing facilities.
Along with the costs to residential consumers will be the jobs lost among industrial consumers for whom it will no longer be viable to operate power-hungry facilities on the Alberta power grid, said Sheldon Fulton, executive director of the Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta.
Fulton said there are two major issues at stake.
One, some industrial consumers may choose to construct their own power plants and leave the power grid altogether, meaning they will no longer pay their share of the costs of power transmission. That will increase the burden on those consumers who stay on the grid.
Secondly, industrial consumers who do stay with the grid face losing profits and revenues because their costs of production will increase, with the result that facilities will slow down or close and those jobs will be lost.
Fulton said the money for the proposed Western and Eastern Transmission Lines is being put in the wrong place. While there is no evidence of an urgent need to upgrade power transmission in the proposed region, major projects in northeastern Alberta cannot be built because there are no power connections to serve them, said Fulton.
Instead of upgrading its transmission capacity through the central corridor, the province should be directing funds to new construction in the northeast region, he said.
Officials from Calgary-based AltaLink, the company AESO chose to build the Western line, are congratulating the committee for its findings.
In a statement released on Monday, AltaLink president and CEO Scott Thon said he is pleased with the committee’s recognition of the importance of reinforcing north-south transmission capacity.
“(Western Alberta Transmission Line) has a direct cost benefit for Albertans. An independent study confirmed that in the year 2020 the cost of WATL will be about one dollar per month on an average residential electricity bill. But, the increased efficiencies created by the new line will save Albertans at least $2.70 and up to about five dollars.”
Thon said the rate increases related to construction will not be added to peoples’ bills until the line is actually energized.