Alberta green-lights construction of high-voltage power lines

EDMONTON — Alberta moved ahead Thursday with two big-ticket, high-voltage electricity lines while at the same time taking steps to reduce the high cost and volatility of power bills.

EDMONTON — Alberta moved ahead Thursday with two big-ticket, high-voltage electricity lines while at the same time taking steps to reduce the high cost and volatility of power bills.

Energy Minister Ted Morton announced he will ask the Alberta Utilities Commission to proceed with two 500-kilovolt lines running from the Edmonton area down to Calgary and beyond.

The cost has been pegged at about $3 billion.

Morton said he accepted the recent recommendations of an independent panel of experts who said the two lines are needed to service Alberta’s growing population and industry.

“We have to know with complete certainty that when we flip the switch the light will turn on, and turn on at an affordable price,” Morton told reporters at a legislature news conference.

One is AltaLink’s Western Alberta Transmission Line, running 350 kilometres from west of Edmonton at Genessee to an area just east of Calgary. ATCO Electric is pursuing one that would run 500 km from east of Edmonton down to Brooks.

The lines would double Alberta’s current energy capacity.

Morton said he has also asked the agency to look at ways of spreading out the cost of the lines to lessen the immediate impact on ratepayers.

The expert panel estimates the extra cost would be $3 a month on residential power bills.

The lines were among four approved under controversial legislation that allowed cabinet to simply order up the lines rather than go through a public hearing needs assessment under the utilities commission.

The government has said that the four lines were a special one-time, time-critical quick fix and that the legislation will now be amended to return to the public hearings process.

Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Party said other analyses show the lines are a massive overbuild at ratepayers’ expense. The goal, he said, is to reward corporate friends of the governing Progressive Conservatives.

“This is a burden on Alberta. There’s no advantage to do this,” said Hinman.

“We’ve got congestion on highways and overpasses and schools, and they’re saying it’s an electrical problem? It isn’t so.”

Also Thursday, Premier Alison Redford’s government took aim at rising power bills and wildly fluctuating prices for consumers who haven’t opted in on fixed-rate contracts.

Some consumers are reporting that their power bills have been steadily rising for years, with some bills doubling over the same period from a year earlier.

Redford announced during question period they will strike an independent panel to review ways to reduce the rates and price volatility for consumers not on fixed rate contracts.

She said they will also ask the utilities commission to freeze the add-on fees on power bills, which cover such things as administration costs, while the review is underway.

The government will also look to streamline and loosen rules on deposits and financial qualifications to allow more people to buy in to the fixed-rate contracts.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said Redford’s announcement means the government has “blinked.”

But he called the solution nothing more than a Band-Aid from a governing party worried about voter backlash with an election call coming in a month.

Mason said the only solution is to re-regulate the industry.

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