Public information session examining power lines reopens old wounds

  • Aug. 24, 2009 8:00 p.m.

Staff

It might not have been quite as volatile as it was during the first round a few years ago, but emotions were still running very high last Tuesday evening at in Rimbey during a public information session to discuss proposed power lines hosted by Alberta Energy.

“We are holding one of our information sessions. This is one of a total of 20 around the province and it’s about electricity transmission in Alberta and the plans for transmission upgrades,” said Kristin Stolarz, a public affairs officer with the government of Alberta. “We’ll also be talking about Bill 50, which is the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, and that’s a piece of legislation that was tabled on June 1 and it proposes to approve the need for four critical transmission infrastructure projects.”

Stolarz said the meeting was the second of four steps involved in the process that began with the need to identify proposed projects and will be followed by a series of consultations with the public on each specific project, with the final step including the sighting process.

“What it is with us being out in the communities is recognizing that there is a need for general information about transmission, what transmission means to Albertans when they use their electricity service, and the need to share what we’re doing in terms of making changes to the existing transmission system through legislation that’s being tabled,” she added. “It’s a way to move forward with the requirements that we have for our service.”

Stolarz said she wasn’t involved with the first round of discussions that ultimately led to the dissolving of the former Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (AEUB) following an admission of spying on local landowners however she added that the provincial government regrets how that situation was handled.

“At the time that decision was made, government recognized that it was a poor decision to make and it wasn’t a decision they never wanted to make ever again so appropriate action was taken to make sure that moving forward, that type of decision wouldn’t effect the process and that’s the important part – that the process stays open and transparent for Albertans,” she said.

“What we had in the previous 500 KV line between Edmonton and Calgary was both parts of the process – the need application process and the sighting application process – the need for that line was actually approved, and it was the sighting process and application that was turned over to go back to the start of the process,” Stolarz added. “We recognize that when it comes down to sighting, there will always be Albertans who are directly effected, but looking forward we would expect that the process that’s established will work to help anyone who wants to have a say about where transmission lines are located, is able to do that through the existing Alberta Utilities Commission process.”

Not so said a number of people at the session who openly confronted government and industry officials. Among them was Edwin Erickson of Buck Lake who questioned both the process and the facts involved.

“I think that it was a bit confusing. We had one person from Alberta Energy telling us that they would be eventually moving towards a more-competitive process but when I questioned Bub McManus from Direct Energy, he said for a new line in the western corridor Atco and Altalink would both be allowed to bid on the project, but five minutes later when I asked Dick Way from AESO (Alberta Electric system Operator) the same question, he said no and that there’d been some discussion but no decision was made, so it’s kind of confusing and a hard act to follow,” said Erickson who spoke on behalf of the Levesta Group, a local organization that advocates for the rights of landowners.

“There was never a fair-need hearing in the first place and as far as need is concerned, when they put up these figures of about 16,000 megawatts needed in the next 15 years, it’s a little hard to swallow when we’re peaking at 9,000 now,” Erickson added. “We’re talking double and we just can’t see that kind of growth coming to the province.”

Jim Vetsch of Rimbey agreed and added that he’s seen this all before and speculated that decisions have already been made on the part of the provincial government and the information sessions are little more than smoke and mirrors.

“This is the same old Dog and Pony Show with the same old tricks we’ve seen a number of times before. The only difference is the new legislation and Bill 50 to plug the holes so it will be harder, if not impossible, for landowners to get a fair shake,” Vetsch said. “I hope Alberta Energy and the AESO don’t consider this consultation. The definition of consultation is a meeting to form a decision, an exchange of opinions in reaching a consensus or an agreement. This session certainly was not. Their decisions have been made as far as I can see. They just haven’t told us, that’s all.”

According to Stolarz, information gathered at the sessions will be forwarded to the government prior to the start of the fall sitting of the legislature with a final decision of the location of the power lines to be determined some time after that.