A controversial $3-billion transmission project that will run through Central Alberta is back on track.
The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) released a letter to stakeholders on Wednesday confirming that the province’s transmission system needs to be upgraded to avoid future reliability problems.
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.
The transmission project has generated significant opposition in the past and landowner spokesman Joe Anglin is already concerned the views of property owners will be ignored so the Alberta government can build a transmission network with an eye to exporting electricity to the U.S.
“It looks like they’re going to railroad this through.” Anglin said taxpayers will be on the hook for the cost of the lines, which could add as much as $14 to a monthly bill.
AESO has repeatedly dismissed suggestions the line is for export.
“It comes up repeatedly,” said Dick Way, senior director of strategic projects. “Some people are under the impression we’re a big exporter today. And We’re not. We are a net importer and we have been for six years.
“The main purpose of these lines is to permit us to reliably service loads in Central and Southern Alberta and to begin to accommodate more renewables and low-emission energy.”
AESO estimates the project’s cost could add $3 a month to a typical monthly bill.
The plan is to connect one power line from generation plants in the Wabamun Lake area west of Edmonton to the Calgary area.
The other line would go from the Heartland industrial area northeast of Edmonton to a converter station in Brooks.
Way said the next step is to complete detailed studies, finalize routes and tower sites, and undertake landowner consultation before taking the project to the Alberta Utilities Commission, likely within 18 months. Construction will take more than two years, putting the line in service around 2013.
Technological tweaks and a slowing economy have bought some more time to upgrade the system for the first time in 20 years and avoid the possibility of brownouts.
“We are coping along and we expect to be able to manage our way through the next several years until our lines are in service.”
Anglin also has problems with the power line approval process. Legislation expected to be passed in the fall will eliminate public hearings to determine if the power lines are needed. Under Bill 50, the decision will now be made by the government’s cabinet.
“The reason in my mind they’re doing this in cabinet, and it’s obvious to me, they don’t want the public to be part of it. They don’t want to be transparent.
“And that’s where they went wrong three years ago.”
Anglin was referring to the previous transmission plan that dragged on for years and led to increasingly hostile public hearings. The situation got so out of hand, the hearings were moved to a Rimbey courtroom as a safety precaution. The whole process was scrapped in 2007 after it was discovered that the former Alberta Energy and Utilities Board hired private detectives to spy on landowners.
Alberta Energy spokesman Jerry Bellikka acknowledges past problems.
“Some mistakes were made and we have tried to set up a structure that is as clear and transparent as possible and gives everybody a fair chance to have their concerns heard and dealt with in public,” said Bellikka.
There has been extensive public consultation by AESO on the current proposal, including open houses in 40 communities last year.
Bill 50 does not take the public out of the decision-making process, he said.
“There are several steps in this process. The ultimate decision will be made in front of a hearing of the Alberta Utilities Commission.
“The decisions that are up to government under Bill 50 are not about where a line would go or wouldn’t go, it’s about whether there would be a need for the line.”
Most Albertans understand the lines are needed to keep the lights on, he said.