EDMONTON — A political battle is reaching a peak in Alberta over whether the province needs billions of dollars worth of new power lines that will be paid for by consumers.
The Alberta government introduced several amendments Thursday to its contentious power line legislation.
Under the changes, the Alberta Utilities Commission will be required to consider the social, economic and environmental effects when making a decision on locating a new transmission line.
But critics dismissed the changes as “window dressing,” pointing out that the key issue in dispute in the legislation is the elimination of the need for the province to prove that new power lines are needed.
The NDP tabled a report in the legislature that raised doubts about the government’s repeated arguments that the power lines are urgently needed to keep pace with Alberta’s rapid growth.
The report by Calgary-based EDC Associates Ltd. was commissioned by the province’s Utilities Consumer Advocate, which released the report later in the day.
The 36-page document concludes that much of the data and logic presented by Alberta’s Electric System Operator “is unconvincing and overstates the sense of urgency.”
The report says the power demand forecasts used to support arguments in favour of new power lines “do not reflect the full impact of the economic downturn.”
Service Alberta Minister Heather Klimchuk stated flatly in the legislature that she does not agree with the conclusions reached in the report.
But NDP Leader Brian Mason waved the report in the air as he challenged Premier Ed Stelmach in the legislature.
“Will the premier admit that his government has been trying to frighten Albertans into accepting an unnecessary $14 billion hit on their power bills?” said Mason.
Stelmach continued to defend the need for massive new electrical transmission corridors running the length of the province.
“The transmission lines are congested, they’re aging,” said Stelmach. “We might as well face up to the fact that we sat back and didn’t do anything in this area for the last 30 or 40 years.”
“We’ve got to ensure that we don’t put the tab on future generations.”
Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith held a news conference at the legislature Thursday to talk about the controversial power line legislation — Bill 50.
Smith says the conclusions in the EDC report strongly suggest that the Tory government is not doing enough to protect consumers.
“There’ve been projections that it’s going to be $200 per year for the average residential bill for the next 15 years,” said Smith.
Major power utilities will end up benefiting greatly from Bill 50, but consumers and landowners whose property will be affected by the new power corridors will end up as the big losers, said Smith.
“My read of this debate so far is that the government is simply and blindly serving the interests of its corporate sponsors, not the interests of consumers,” she said.