EMF, power usage discussed at open house for Red Deer-area transmission project

Effects of electric and magnetic fields and finding ways to reduce power usage were among the concerns raised at an AltaLink open house in Red Deer.

Effects of electric and magnetic fields and finding ways to reduce power usage were among the concerns raised at an AltaLink open house in Red Deer.

The Calgary-based power transmission company is laying out a four-stage project to improve its systems in the 100-kilometre corridor from Wetaskiwin to Didsbury.

Public consultation is underway with a permitting application to go to the Alberta Utilities Commission later this year. Construction will likely start early in 2013 and finish in 2014, said AltaLink communications advisor Robin Boschman, one of more than 20 AltaLink and Alberta Electric System Operator people who staffed the meeting, outnumbering members of the public at times by three or four to one.

Costs are estimated at $200 million, which Boschman said would be borne by all power consumers within the province. Residential power customers would pay about 20 cents a month for the project, she said.

Less controversial than its project to build the 500-kilovolt Western Transmission line along a 350-kilometre route from Genesee to Calgary, the Red Deer Area Transmission Development project upgrades and expands existing systems and then tears out portions that will not be needed.

In a nutshell, the four stage plan would

• Upgrade six substations within the region,

• Rebuild about 75 kilometres of line in the Red Deer and Sylvan Lake areas

• Add new substations at Didsbury, Innisfail and Ponoka along with about 50 kilometres of 138kV line and

• Tear down about 100 km of existing lines from Wetaskiwin to Lacombe and from Red Deer to Innisfail once the upgrades and rebuilds are complete.

AltaLink staff counted 50 members of the public at the Red Deer during the four hours of the open house while 21 had attended a similar meeting in Ponoka on Tuesday.

Red Deer resident Maria Kujala, who lives very close to one of the lines to be upgraded, said she attended to find out if the level of EMF would change and what affect that would have on her pacemaker.

Kujala spoke with AltaLink representative Tim Wood, whose specializes in studying and discussing such affects. Kujala said she had been worried that she would have to move to protect her pacemaker. However, she left the meeting feeling assured that the EMF from the line would not interfere with its operation.

Each company that manufactures pacemakers has specific information regarding the potential for harm to the various models it produces, said Wood. AltaLink bases its position on EMF on the positions held by Health Canada and the World Health Organization, which uses peer-reviewed scientific studies to make its recommendations, he said.

AltaLink has used that information to create a diagram of the levels of EMF its lines contribute to the environment, depending on height, design of the tower and the amount of current being carried in the line, he said.

Council of Canadians member Ken Collier, who attended for his own information as well as to represent the group, said that while he doesn’t challenge the need for upgrades, people, governments and utility providers must make more effort to use less energy.

Programs that encourage the voluntary use of energy-efficient light bulbs, for example, don’t go nearly far enough, said Collier.

“Without a systematic program that has some teeth to it, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Collier said he was shunted back and forth between the AltaLink and AESO representatives when he asked why the lines within city limits would be strung on poles rather than buried, eventually learning that it costs about 10 times as much to bury cable.

Considering the aesthetics and that some of the EMF can be reduced by burying the cables, Collier said he feels it worth the additional cost.

While AltaLink has said the power lines add only a minimal amount to background radiation that already exists, Collier said he is concerned with the cumulative effects of adding a bit here, a bit there, and so on.

Additional public meetings are being held at the Lacombe Memorial Centre today, the Didsbury Memorial Complex next Tuesday, the Innisfail Legion on Wednesday, Aug. 3 and the Lions Hall in Sylvan Lake on Thursday, Aug. 4.

All meetings run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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