EDMONTON — Alberta introduced legislation Monday to give the government more control over critically needed power lines that are to be built under an older policy that will make consumers pay the full cost of the projects.
The power line system has not kept pace with Alberta’s growing population and hasn’t been upgraded in more than 20 years, a situation that could lead to widespread electricity shortages if the problem isn’t dealt with now, Energy Minister Mel Knight said.
“It is time to upgrade our existing transmission system,” Knight said. “The longer we wait, the greater the cost and the greater the risk that Albertans may lose the electricity service they rely on.”
Bill 50 would give cabinet more control over which power lines are built and when, but the Alberta Energy Utilities Commission would retain control over where they are built, including holding public meetings with landowners affected by a line.
The Alberta Electric System Operator estimated in November that new power line projects worth more than $10 billion will be needed in the next few years.
About $8 billion worth of those projects are covered by Bill 50.
Those projects include two new lines between Edmonton and Calgary; a new line from Edmonton and so-called upgrader alley just east of the capital; two new lines between upgrader alley to Fort McMurray; and upgrading power lines in and around Calgary.
Bill 50 would also cover a proposal to build new lines in southern Alberta, including a substation that would allow wind farms to send electricity into the power grid.
Jim Wachowich of the Consumers’ Coalition of Alberta said Bill 50 must ensure that projects undergo a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that Albertans who are paying the cost are getting value for their money.
He said this will be especially important if private power companies in Alberta ever generate enough electric power for export.
Consumers — industrial and residential — must have a say, he said.
“With all the costs being born by customers we clearly want to make sure that customers continue to have a voice and some say in how the system is developed,” Wachowich said.
“This is a pre-build of export capacity.”
Knight said the current power line system is so old and inefficient that about $220-million worth of electricity was wasted just last year — enough to power 350,000 homes.
Alberta Energy officials say demand for electricity is increasing by the equivalent of adding two cities the size of Red Deer to the province each year.
When Ralph Klein was premier the province made consumers responsible for paying the full cost of new electricity lines instead of sharing the cost with power companies, but no major power transmission lines have built since then.
Knight said consumers effectively ended up paying the cost of power lines under the old rules because the power companies passed on their costs to their industrial and residential customers.
Bill 50 is to be held over until the fall to give Albertans a chance to respond to the plan.
“The need for new transmission is critical,” Knight said. “The situation we are facing raises the risks of widespread power outages and unreliable service. That is a risk and a cost that will only grow if we don’t act now.”