Residents in Red Deer’s Pines neighbourhood don’t believe AltaLink ever seriously considered their proposal to move a replacement power line further from their homes.
John Wilson, spokesman for a group representing about 50 residents, confronted AltaLink with one of their own documents on Tuesday that says it is company policy not to abandon its rights-of-way for power lines unless ordered to by the Alberta Utilities Commission.
For residents, that seems to show that the company had always planned to put new power lines along the existing right-of-way in the Pines rather than use an alternate route that residents want, and the city of Red Deer supports, further away from homes.
Wilson said residents have been working with AltaLink representatives for a long time under the assumption their views would be taken into account.
“When you actually know there’s a policy that says no matter what you do we’re going to go in the existing right of way, how can you have true collaboration?” he said following his cross-examination of AltaLink representatives at the first day of hearings into a $350-million project to upgrade transmission capacity in the Red Deer region.
AltaLink manager of regional projects Keith Turriff acknowledged the statement was in the document but said that it was “incorrect.”
The preferred route was not chosen because of a policy, Turriff said at the hearing at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Gasoline Alley.
AltaLink’s first choice for a route and the alternative were chosen after a detailed assessment of factors through engineering, siting and other metrics.
AltaLink spokesman Peter Brodsky said residents’ views are taken seriously when projects are evaluated.
“To suggest we are not interested in the input of residents is not true.”
The company weighed stakeholder input, environmental impacts, costs and other factors and “we’ve come up with what we believe is the best route with the lowest impact on all those factors,” Brodsky said following the hearing.
Wilson said he hopes the three-person AUC panel heard what residents of the Pines had to say.
If the process is fair and transparent and the panel’s decisions are sound, Wilson said he finds it “hard to understand why they would go through the existing right-of-way knowing what they know now by the involvement of the Pines group as intervenors.”
Not all who attended the hearing came away frustrated.
A group of West Park residents who opposed the preferred route for a power line in their tree-lined neighbourhood got some good news.
AltaLink announced at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing that it would buy out a West Park property owner allowing the line to be moved to an existing right of way. Terms will not be disclosed.
AltaLink had proposed a short jog in the line to bypass a garage that had been built underneath the line decades ago. Running a power line above a structure was not considered acceptable and the preferred route was detoured around the lot.
Bob Stevenson, who lives nearby, was shocked by the late turn of events.
“We’re ecstatic,” he said. “For the West Park Estates Group we’re very satisfied.”
Resident Matt Schoonderwoerd faced the prospect of having a 20- to 30-metre transmission pole only 20 metres from his front window.
“I’m very optimistic, of course, about this change,” he said.
Relocating the line would have left him facing a 15-metre wide swath cut through local greenery and devalued his home, he added.
Much of Monday’s hearing was taken up by cross-examination of AltaLink’s eight-member panel by Matthew Keen, a lawyer representing the Utilities Consumer Advocate, which was formed in 2003 to represent the interests of residential, small business and farm electricity and natural gas consumers.
Keen grilled the panel on the cost of the project.
The cost of the project rose from early estimates of about $200 million in the document that established the need for the project to the present estimates of $350 million.
Turriff explained the earlier cost estimate was a less detailed forecast meant to provide AESO with information to screen various transmission alternatives. Later, after stakeholders had been consulted and more detailed engineering work done, a more accurate estimation of costs was prepared.