Bill 50 part of bigger issue

To get a true picture on how we ended up with Bill 50 and calls for an investigation by the province’s ethics commissioner, we need to expand our view somewhat.

To get a true picture on how we ended up with Bill 50 and calls for an investigation by the province’s ethics commissioner, we need to expand our view somewhat.

Bill 50 is really only one of several very expensive cards in Alberta’s electrical (green)house. And it is of particular importance to recognize who is the whistle-blower who might send it all tumbling.

It’s not an aggrieved landowner, upset over a high-voltage power line cutting through his property. Joe Anglin, for all his work and that of his friends, could not have blown this whistle.

Rather, it was the CEO of Enmax, Gary Holden, who accused the government of making secret deals with power producers as an impetus for the most draconian, us-versus-them piece of legislation the government has passed since they banned strikes by nurses and teachers.

Bill 50 tosses out the need for public consultation and review of whatever major projects (such as new power lines), the government says is of vital need. Why would anyone need something like that? If a power line is demontrably a vital need, you rational people could get together and find the compromises needed to get the job done.

But there is a wider view that we need to see.

The government is holding the line on spending on schools and health care, and froze the salaries of the civil service. But it has billions to spend on carbon sequestration programs. They announced four more recently, that will cost $1.9 billion (and probably more) in the next 15 years.

Where will this carbon come from, that will all be sequestered away so cleanly?

A lot will come from coal-powered electrical plants. One announcement, at Keephills, is a retrofit of an existing plant. Another, the Swan Hills Synfuels project, will burn gassified coal from a seam that’s too deep to mine conventionally.

A third project, the Alberta Gas Trunk Line, will actually gather carbon dioxide from a bitumen upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan.

Alberta needs these, and other projects, to supply the carbon dioxide that we’ll use to stimulate aging oilfields and produce “green” crude, and while proving to the world that we are not environmental bad guys.

But what do you do with all this new the power? You can’t mothball the old existing plants — they’re owned by corporations. Well, you sell it. But you can’t sell it without adding power line capacity.

So you declare Alberta short of power line capacity, and overturn the process that regulates how power line routes are chosen. We’re in a rush to be green here. Besides, power consumers will be paying for it, whether they use more power or not.

In literal terms, you can believe premier Stelmach when he says it’s “crap” that secret meetings were held specifically to divvy up the province for the power producers. Squelching competition is illegal, even for the government.

Obviously, no minutes of any such meeting will likely be forthcoming, but if the CEO of the power producer (not benefitting from these projects; rather, he has something to lose — a natural-gas plant proposal near Calgary) says he smell a rat, you should call out the rat patrol.

If we are not to look like a fool in the eyes of the world, we need to sequester carbon dioxide. So we need a concentrated source of carbon dioxide — such as a new electrical plant. So we need to sell the power. So we need to build a power line. Fast.

Why not build a line north to Fort McMurray, and use electricity to create steam for more efficient (greener) mining and processing of the tarsands, rather than depleting natural gas that would be better used heating our homes?

Stay tuned. By the end of January, Stelmach will announce on whether to proceed with a nuclear power plant in Alberta’s north.

Will we need another Bill 50 to fast-track that, too?

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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