A no-risk investment

Sometimes, even when you win, you can’t win. The Lavesta Group, the landowners and others opposed to the building of a major power line through their property overcame huge hurdles when they quashed an application for a line to be built.

Sometimes, even when you win, you can’t win. The Lavesta Group, the landowners and others opposed to the building of a major power line through their property overcame huge hurdles when they quashed an application for a line to be built.

One of those hurdles was the lack of integrity of their own government agencies, which planted spies in their midst, so industry lawyers would be informed of strategies the Lavesta members would use at public hearings into the application.

But lapses of integrity only last until new laws can be drafted to fill the gap.

The hearings that led to the Lavesta success are probably the last public hearings that will ever be held, which would have even nominal ability to affect a decision on the future of Alberta’s power grid. Bill 55 pretty effectively removes public input that might override a decision that has already been made, even before any plans were announced.

You can agree or disagree that public pressure groups should have that kind of power — in Alberta that’s reserved for private lobbyists. But you still should be outraged that you are being forced to become lifetime investors on behalf of a protected industry making good profits on your money.

In Alberta, private business owns the power plants. But ownership of the transmission lines is kind of murky.

The lines exist for one purpose only — to carry power from the generators to us. Investors make decisions based on risk and reward to build the power plants, and are therefore entitled to their margin of profit. But the power lines are worth billions and the generators don’t pay to use them.

We do. Every month on your power bill, your share of the cost of building and maintaining the lines is listed. Cumulatively, that cost is huge. Even if you unplugged everything in your house and used no power at all, your next month’s bill would be more than the entire power bill for your household — power, access fees, billing fees administration fees and all — when the city was also a power utility.

So what do you think about your power bill rising by up to another $14 a month over the next number of years, just so the power manager has the $14 billion available to build new lines over people’s land, without their consent, and without public consultation that has any hope of carrying any weight?

If the government owned the power system — like it does in other provinces — and they raised your taxes that much, there’d be a huge public outcry. Despite the fact that at least in government-owned systems, the taxpayer shares the risks and is entitled to a share of the profits!

In building multibillion-dollar power lines, there are no financial risks at all. Building them cannot be stopped and all consumers pay for them, with no hope of recovery on their “investment.”

When the railroads were built in Canada, the companies owned the rail lines, plus a major part of the downtown of every town and city the train stopped in. It was an incredible investment on the part of future generations. The land was worth more than the rail businesses themselves.

If Alberta were doing that today, the railways would supply the trains and we would supply the land, the rail lines themselves, plus all their upkeep, forever, even if we never got a ticket to ride.

Who got the better deal, the railways or the power generators?

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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