The builders of a proposed $1.4-billion power line project were grilled for several hours in Red Deer on Thursday by a lawyer questioning the merits of its preferred route.
Speaking before the Alberta Utilities Commission panel, Gavin Fitch of Calgary fired off a series of questions leveled at AltaLink representatives over why the preferred route was better than the alternate one.
The transmission line is proposed to be a high-voltage 500 kV (500,000 volts) direct current transmission line, connecting the Genesee area west of Edmonton to the Langdon area east of Calgary.
Fitch represents directly affected residents calling themselves the 566 Corridor Group.
AltaLink’s preferred route would be largely on the west side of Hwy 2, from Genesee and Lake Wabumun area directly south to north of Crossfield, before cutting across to east of Hwy 2 and then down to Langdon.
The alternate route is largely on the east side of Hwy 2. It crosses to the east side just north of Ponoka and then moves south down to the Langdon area.
Fitch said the alternate route borders existing transmission lines, roads, or pipelines virtually along its entirety.
“We just went through the strip maps and in every strip map, the line is either on or conveniently adjacent to a border line or it’s paralleling a transmission line or it’s paralleling an adjacent pipeline or it’s parallelling a road,” said Fitch.
“I would agree, a large portion of that falls in that category,” replied Hudson Foley, director of siting for AltaLink.
Fitch then asked when comparing the preferred route with the alternate route, there really is no material difference when it comes to landscape fragmentation.
“I wouldn’t entirely agree with that,” said Ross Eccles, senior principal and regulatory advisor for environmental services of Stantec Consulting.
“There are portions of the alternate that still go through areas that are important, relatively valuable wildlife habitat.”
Eccles said that both routes were acceptable when it came to soil, vegetation, wildlife and aquatic impacts.
Fitch queried if the majority of the alternate route is along quarter section lines.
Foley replied that “about 180 km directly on.”
Fitch said in some areas there would be power lines and towers 30 metres running through undisturbed farming land, within the preferred route.
“Compared to the alternate route where maybe the towers are going to be straddling quarter section lines, isn’t it fairly obvious that the alternate route is preferable from the perspective of agricultural impacts?” asked Fitch.
Fitch then re-emphasized his question to Foley to answer in general principles, setting aside individual farmer preferences.
“Isn’t it true locating these towers so they straddle quarter section lines causes less agricultural impact when you are cultivating than when they are located 30 to 40 metres in a field?” asked Fitch.
“Generally speaking, I would say yes,” replied Foley.
AltaLink contends the preferred route most effectively minimizes impacts, including: it has 18 privately owned residences within 150 m that would have the proposed transmission line closer than any existing 240 kV transmission line; it parallels 211 km of existing lines resulting in fewer issues with agricultural and the environment; has low environmental impact; and it crosses the least amount of cultivated land.
The alternate route has more than 349 kms of line; 18 privately owned residences wthin 150 metres that would have the proposed transmission line closer than any existing 240 kV transmission line; is located primarily along quarter lines; has the fewest number of homes within 800 metres; and has less surface water.
There have been no significant upgrades to the Edmonton-Calgary transmission line since 1982.
The hearing resumes today at 8:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn on 67th Street.
The commission had earlier rejected a bid from Fitch, who asked for an adjournment, arguing the hearing shouldn’t go ahead until the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled on an issue that came out of the contentious Heartland power line hearings in Edmonton last year.
Since that decision may dictate the scope of how public interest should be considered by the three-member commission panel, the appeal court’s decision could directly affect this hearing, said Fitch.
Joe Anglin, utilities critic for the Wildrose Party and MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, said the ruling from the Court of Appeal could force this process to start all over again at day one.
“If so, it will fall on taxpayers — again — to compensate AltaLink,” said Anglin in a news release.
The Wildrose party also reports that Alberta taxpayers could be on the hook for millions of dollars, depending on what comes from the Court of Appeal.