Too many hearings, too few experts

All action on a high-voltage line through West Central Alberta should be stopped until plans for the eastern line have been resolved, say people taking part in a hearing for the Western Alberta Transmission Line.

All action on a high-voltage line through West Central Alberta should be stopped until plans for the eastern line have been resolved, say people taking part in a hearing for the Western Alberta Transmission Line.

There aren’t enough experts in the field to assist people who wish to intervene in two hearings, much less a possible three.

On Wednesday, representatives from about 50 different groups, including landowners and municipalities, met with the Alberta Utilities Commission in Red Deer for a process hearing.

The process hearing is a preliminary step leading to setting up a public hearing into Calgary-based AltaLink’s application to build the 500-volt transmission line, said Jim Law, director of external communications for the utilities commission.

The direct current line is to run from the Genesee power plant, 85 kilometres west of Edmonton to Langdon, 30 km south of Strathmore.

Wednesday’s process hearing was set up for the commission to gather information that will be pertinent to the formal hearing, including outlines of concerns and objections from people who plan to make submissions, said Law.

Some of the people who have expressed concerns with the Western Alberta Transmission Line are now lashing out at the application process.

Crossfield Mayor Nathan Anderson and Rimbey town councillor Joe Anglin, leader of the Lavesta

Area Group, said officials are getting in too much of a hurry to move ahead on the western line when it has two other proposals to deal with as well.

The formal hearing into the Heartland transmission line at Edmonton has been underway since last Monday and was recessed for the day on Wednesday for the process hearing in Red Deer.

A hearing will likely also be scheduled in the near future for the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line, for which ATCO Electric has just submitted its application.

Allowing the three applications to overlap has put additional stress on intervenors like the Town of Crossfield, which will suffer adverse affects under the current proposal, said Anderson.

He asked the commission to delay hearing the application for the western line until issues concerning the eastern line have been resolved.

“This shouldn’t even be happening until the east stuff is figured out — if at all,” Anderson said after giving his presentation.

It has become difficult to find expert help because the few people who have experience in this field are already busy with the Heartland application, he said.

There are very few experts in this field in the first place, he said.

“By concurrently doing all these things in conjunction at the same time on three different lines, it watered down the talent (pool), if you will, for people to be properly represented,” said Anderson.

“It looks dirty, on the side of the government. It doesn’t look fair. It swamps people.”

Anglin said after his presentation that the process is backward. The eastern line connects with the Heartland line, so the eastern line’s location cannot be finalized until the Heartland line has been approved. Along with that, the western line cannot be energized until the eastern line is available for backup, he said.

“We’re discussing the dates for this, and we can’t use this until the east line is built,” said Anglin.

“We need a fairer process. We need time to go over the data. We need to make sure it works. The last thing we want to do is cascade the province and shut the electricity off.”

Leigh Clarke, AltaLink’s senior vice-president of external engagement, said that the original plan, developed by the Alberta Electric System Operator, would have seen the western line go up considerably ahead of the others.

At this point, all three lines will be built at about the same time, although the western Line is currently about a month ahead of the eastern line, Clarke said from his office in Calgary.

The western line can run safely at partial capacity until the eastern line is ready to use, he said.

“One of them’s got to go first somewhere.”

The need for new transmission has already been addressed by the Alberta Electric System Operator, which hired AltaLink and others to build the lines, said Clarke.

He said he had not previously heard complaints about the three hearings being held in the same frame.

“These projects are essentially on the same time lines, in any event,” said Clarke.

“We’ve got a job to do and we’re going to keep moving forward and trust that the AUC will recognize that the projects are really moving forward at the same time in any event.”

The format, locations and start dates for the public hearings into the western and eastern lines have not been set.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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