After two years of public hearings, consultations, negotiations and scrutiny, the Western Alberta Transmission Line has been approved.
The Alberta Utilities Commission approved route and tower options for the $1.5 billion project Thursday. The line will traverse a large section of Central Alberta. The 500 kilovolt line stretches more than 350 km from Genesee, west of Edmonton, to the Langdon area east of Calgary will be built and operated by AltaLink.
“This is the critical backbone in our electrical system,” said Scott Thon, AltaLink president and CEO.
“We have not reinforced it for 30 years and reinforcing it is not only good to ensure reliability for the province, but also it is a key backbone in ensuring we get competition out of the generation sector.”
Thon said a line like this will help power generators get their product to market, making every generator competitive in marketplace.
“It’s about choice,” said Thon. “If Alberta customers have a robust transmission system, then they can get access to the lowest cost producer.”
Jim Law, Alberta Utilities Commission external relations director, said more than 60 per cent of the approved route parallels existing lines. According to a press release the hope is that will minimize the project’s visual and environmental effects and the disturbance of land.
“On portions of the line, which were preferred, many instances there were alternatives developed from landowner suggestions prior to the hearing and throughout the hearing that were then incorporated and then approved,” said Law.
The utilities commission did, however, require two deviations from the preferred route submitted by AltaLink. The AUC has directed AltaLink to the ‘less obtrusive monopole structures’ in the 12-km stretch east of Gleniffer Reservoir. Thon said his company is very experieneced in building those monopoles.
“We use them in a variety of locations and that’s not a concern either,” said Thon.
The other deviation from the preferred route was the Crossfield Tie Option, which Law said was developed in consultation from land owners.
“We were prepared to build the alternative at Crossfield, that’s why we put it forward,” said Thon. “We had a couple options there, the fact the AUC picked the other one is a small adjustment. We’re prepared to build either one.”
The transmission line will cross Hwy 2 just north of Crossfield before continuing on to Langdon.
Public hearings ran for 24 days where numerous residents and land owners expressed their concerns about the line.
But not everyone was pleased with the decision to build the transmission line.
Vittoria Bellissimo, executive director, of the Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta, said approval was an “inevitability,” noting the matching Eastern Alberta Transmission Line was approved last month.
“The government decided they wanted these things done, so there you are.”
Bellissimo, whose association represents a coalition of large industries consuming about a third of the province’s power, said the line was approved despite the need for it never being proven by the province.
The massive building project will come at a cost to industrial power users, who are already bracing for an anticipated tripling of power rates over the next six years.
“It’s an unprecedented change in transmission costs,” she said.
It could drive businesses not connected to the oil and gas industry out of the province, she said.
Another industry concern is that all of the attention will be focused on building the power line mega-projects and much-needed regional transmission improvements will drop in priority.
“There’s a bunch of regional projects right now that are needed to connect new consumers to the grid,” she said.
The focus should be on those lines, not the two big transmission lines “that won’t be needed for a number of years if ever.”
AltaLink and ATCO, which is building the eastern line, need to take another look at how they prioritize projects, she said.
“It is difficult to please every interest and the commission’s job was to look at which, if any of what was submitted was the best in terms of being in the public interest from an environmental, social and economic impact perspective,” said Law.
“What the decision does is to look at those impacts and to choose the one that would minimize the landowner, agricultural and environmental impacts.”
Thon said he was pleased the landowners engaged with AltaLink.
“Today that doesn’t stop,” said Thon. “We’re going to be in the field and that’s going to require our teams to continue to talk to those folks and make sure we get it right as we build this line.”
Construction of the transmission line will start early in the new year, with an estimated in-service date in Spring 2015.