Hearings into AltaLink plans wrap up

Hearings wrapped up on Tuesday for a $350-million plan to upgrade electricity transmission in the Red Deer region.

Hearings wrapped up on Tuesday for a $350-million plan to upgrade electricity transmission in the Red Deer region.

The six days of Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearings at a Gasoline Alley hotel were called to review AltaLink’s application to build substations near Ponoka, Innisfail and Didsbury, as well as about 35 km of lines in those areas.

As well, there’s a 71-km line overhaul proposed from Benalto, to the edge of Red Deer’s West Park neighbourhood, to Nova Chemicals at Joffre.

The company says upgrading transmission capacity is necessary to keep pace with growth in the Central Alberta corridor.

As the hearing began, AltaLink announced a proposal to build 16 km of new power line in the Lacombe area was being dropped for now because of uncertainty over Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.’s position on running the line parallel to its tracks.

There was also a surprise revelation that AltaLink was close to inking a deal to buy out a homeowner near West Park whose home had been built under the power lines, which meant a jog in the new line was required for safety reasons.

That small detour meant removing many trees and nearby residents on Wiltshire Boulevard were strongly opposed to losing their views and treasured natural areas.

AltaLink plans to demolish the home and garage, allowing the preferred route to run through the empty lot. The jog remains an alternate route.

Residents of the Pines neighbourhood voiced their opposition to the company’s preferred route, which follows the path of an existing power line that has run through the area since the 1950s. Residents want to use the opportunity presented by planned upgrades to the line to move it farther from homes below the escarpment.

In Red Deer, the city has agreed to spend more than $8 million to have the power line buried in the Riverlands area. However, some property and business owners also want to see the line buried in the nearby Railyards district.

Residents in the Innisfail area and the Town of Innisfail also took issue with AltaLink’s preferred routes and asked for changes.

AltaLink representatives were also grilled by a lawyer for the Utilities Consumer Advocate about the cost of the project that soared from early estimates in the range of $200 million. AltaLink said those were preliminary estimates meant to be used to screen various project alternatives and did not include detailed costing.

Now that the hearing has wrapped up, the 11th-hour preferred route change in West Park must be considered.

That will affect the timing of the three-member AUC panel’s decision, which is typically made within 90 days of all information on an application being received.

Last Friday, the AUC filed an amendment to its application showing the route change and gave an April 7 deadline for filing notices for those who want to make further submissions in writing.

AUC spokesman Geoff Scotton said information on the amendments was delivered by courier to six affected property owners and mailed to all others within 800 metres of the proposed routes.

AltaLink will provide its initial arguments for the route change in writing by April 11 and intervenors have until April 25 to submit their arguments. AltaLink has until May 2 to reply.

Submissions will only be in writing unless the panel sees a need to hold a public hearing.

AltaLink spokesman Peter Brodsky said the West Park situation was unique and no other late amendments are expected.

If approved, construction on the transmission system would begin this summer and be completed in about 14 months.

A decision is expected within 90 days of May 2. The AUC can approve or turn down the application or order changes.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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