The Alberta Utilities Commission will not review its decision to allow larger transmission towers to run through the Pines neighbourhood of Red Deer.
About 50 frustrated residents of the Pines subdivision had sought a new Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing on an AltaLink power line project that will see expanded towers erected along an existing electrical right-of-way through the neighbourhood. Residents had instead wanted the towers relocated to a less intrusive location at the bottom of an escarpment. But they felt this alternate route proposal was not considered by the AUC panel that eventually approved the project, or looked at in any detail by AltaLink.
That the AUC is now refusing to review its decision to approve the existing right-of-way amounts to “when they make a decision, they don’t like anyone questioning their decision,” said John Wilson, a Pines resident.
He disputes the AUC’s determination that running larger towers along the existing route is in the public interest. How can this be, he questions, when his neighbours share a “significant belief” it’s not the right place?
The approval body “seems more aligned with the industrial development process than doing what’s right for Albertans,” Wilson added.
The AUC concluded there were no grounds for a review. “Applicants did not raise a reasonable possibility that the original panel committed an error, or that previously unavailable facts or changed circumstances could lead the commission to materially vary or rescind the original decision.”
Pines residents had argued that AltaLink should have disclosed all internal documents about alternate routes to prove there was no “ulterior motive” in the company’s decision to stick with the existing right of way.
But the commission was not persuaded the original hearing panel erred in denying the Pines residents’ request for this information. The AUC accepted that AltaLink’s reasons for its preferred route had been addressed through cross examination, and the disclosure of the sought-for information would not have changed the decision to approve the project.
The commission stated many factors were weighed before a route was approved — and AltaLink’s preference was not the only consideration.
The AUC accepted AltaLink’s rationale that the Pines neighbourhood “was designed and developed to be integrated with the 80L transmission line and that each of the Pines group members bought their homes and moved to the Pines neighbourhood with the existing facilities in place.”
The commission also accepted that keeping most of the project in the existing right-of-way will reduce the project’s environmental impacts. The AUC stated Pines residents had presented “little or no expert evidence” at the hearings that contradicted the environmental arguments presented by AltaLink.
But Wilson maintains that, with some tree replanting, there would be no discernible environmental difference between the two routes.
There would be a big difference to Pines residents, however, in removing the transmission lines. He said it would have less visual impact on the neighbourhood.
Since the City of Red Deer supports the Pines group in wanting the transmission towers moved down the escarpment away from homes, a Jan. 6 meeting was arranged between residents and city officials to discuss the next step.
Wilson believes the main options are going to court over the approval, or proposing with the city to jointly raise the $2.1 million cost of moving the towers down the escarpment.
He feels affected residents might agree to pay a “special tax” over a span of years to cover this cost. But the city’s director of corporate services, Paul Goranson, hadn’t heard anything about a taxing proposal, and doesn’t even know if cost is a determining factor for AltaLink.
Goranson said he won’t know all the options until meeting with residents and utility experts. He added the City of Red Deer supports relocating the towers during the electrical system expansion, because if it doesn’t happen now, another opportunity won’t present itself for 25 to 50 years.