Despite countless protests, and critical letters and emails, Premier Ed Stelmach is going to ram the controversial Bill 50 on electricity transmission down Albertans’ throats. The bill is expected to pass through the legislature in the next few days.
It’s as though our premier by accident is not only indifferent to the wishes of ordinary Albertans, but contemptuous as well.
For the record, the government claims that Alberta needs the four electricity transmission projects outlined in the legislation to avoid possible brownouts.
Not surprisingly, critics of the legislation think that is simply a ruse to allow the Conservatives to help their corporate friends financially.
Arguably, the worst part of the legislation is that it will force Alberta consumers to pay the entire cost of the projects. The companies that are going to use the lines to transmit power will pay nothing but benefit mightily.
The Alberta Electric System Operator, the organization that stands to benefit the most, says Albertans will pay triple the cost to bring power to their homes — about $175 more a year on their electricity bills — to help fund $14.5 billion in transmission upgrades planned over the next eight years.
Critics say, in reality, Albertans will likely pay a lot more than that.
As he has been getting so much heat over this issue in recent days, Stelmach has agreed to make a few minor amendments to the legislation.
For instance, he’s going to lengthen the timeline for the projects, spreading out the cost — but consumers are still going to get a financial kick in the head.
Interestingly, Bill 50 will eliminate the legal requirement for public hearings on the need for transmission lines. That flies in the face of democracy and should not be allowed.
The Alberta Liberals are looking to introduce an amendment that would reinstate “needs” hearings by eliminating the government’s ability to arbitrarily determine what projects are deemed critical, but the Grits have few seats under the dome in Edmonton and probably won’t be able to get that done.
“The lights have not gone out,” Liberal energy critic Dave Taylor quipped Tuesday during Bill 50 debate in the legislature. “I’m just a little bit skeptical myself (of the need for the power lines).”
Well, Albertans should be more than a little skeptical.
Former Green Party leader Joe Anglin has probably accomplished as much as anyone in this province in pointing out the dangers of Bill 50.
He notes that there’s only one reason why Alberta has gone from having one of the most economical electrical systems in North America to one of the most expensive: deregulation.
Former premier Ralph Klein accomplished a lot in terms of slaying the province’s debt, but he wrecked our electrical system.
Now, Stelmach is prepared to put the icing on the cake.
In a few years, we just may look back on Stelmach and say, “Good old Ralph made some mistakes, but it took a farmer from Vegreville to really screw up this province.”
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.