As a landowner in central Alberta and a registered intervener in the Western Alberta Transmission Line hearing, I’m appalled by the lack of power of everyday Albertans who own land. Perhaps even more alarming is the abuse of power by our government, and the absolute arrogance of the Alberta Government to bestow that power upon corporations, specifically in this case, AltaLink.
When the Alberta Government introduced Bill 50 in 2009, which many speculate was comprised in the backroom of Alberta’s provincial cabinet, alongside the utility companies and AESO, it extinguished the rights of the public, industry, and the Alberta Utilities Commission to determine necessity. This, in effect, eliminated the needs assessment process, and truly stripped everyday Albertans of their right to fair and due process when it comes to utility companies developing on private lands. Industry, landowners, municipalities, and consumer groups, including the Industrial Consumers Association of Alberta have opposed Bill 50 and claimed the projects associated with it to be a gross overbuild and contrary to the best interests of Albertans. A case in point is that these lines deemed necessary will be energized to only a small fraction of their capacity within the next 15 years. With this knowledge how can this project justifiably be labelled critical infrastructure?
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this ordeal for my family, and many landowners like me is that we have not been privy to any data or research indicating the need for these lines. Yet we as Albertans are required to pay 100 per cent of the cost of the lines, while the transmission companies like AltaLink own them and reap a guaranteed nine per cent annual return on our investment. Not only do these transmission companies stand to make billions of dollars off the backs of hardworking, taxpayers of Alberta, the landowners who make the greatest sacrifice by having monstrous transmission lines on their property pay even further by having their health, safety, property values, farming operations, and overall quality of life negatively impacted.
Now I’m not going to pretend for a minute that my family would be inclined to live life off the grid and be without the many luxuries that electricity affords, but it would be a much easier pill to swallow if only we could be afforded with data and information that determines necessity for the public good. This missing piece of the puzzle, along with the blatant disregard, and disrespect to landowners and Albertans, as a whole is truly unacceptable. Considering that even the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, who arguably represents the city consuming the most power in Alberta states that the WATL is a “terrible idea” and that much of the transmission won’t be required because of the city-owned utility’s own project, in the Shepard district — it begs the question why? Cables sent from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa in 2003 and 2008 indicate the answer as Alberta politicians offered to export power to the United States using excess electricity generated by oil sands facilities. Which brings to mind a sickening image of the AltaLink executives and those of its parent company, SNC Lavalin, conspiring alongside the old boys of the Progressive Conservative party clicking their heels and cheering, “California here we come!” No doubt smirking all the while with the relative ease that it required to get Albertans to pay billions of dollars of hard-earned tax dollars to guarantee them billions in profits. Clearly AltaLink has done a cost benefit analysis, but I’m not convinced that the Alberta Government has on behalf of its citizens, and I’m quite certain that as the profits roll in we won’t be seeing any rebate cheques in the mail.
It is also extremely disconcerting to me, as it should be to all Albertans, most notably the Government of Alberta who is obliged to conduct itself in the best interests of all Albertans that we have handed over a contract to AltaLink with no competitive bidding process. A corporation whose parent company had proven ties to the Gadhafi regime, and several standing charges of corruption. We have placed our faith, trust, confidence, and the future of our province in a company, embroiled in scandalous deceit to function in the best public interest of Albertans.
The fact that my family, and many others like ours are in this unfortunate predicament is infuriating, but what compounds that anger is the fact that the process by which landowners intervene is unfair and truly serves only those who have the time, money, and skill set to do so.
The AUC speaks of equity and transparency but the whole process is anything but. Many landowners on the various routes affected by the WATL who I have spoken with personally, and have regretfully been through the process previously, are so disillusioned and filled with mistrust that they have opted not to be involved in the process as they deem it futile. As an individual attempting to navigate the system and understand the expectations of the intervener process, I can attest it has been extremely time consuming and difficult. One example of this is it required more than 40 phone calls and emails and an enormous amount of time just in effort to retain legal counsel.
As was illustrated in the Heartland Hearing, clearly the AUC doesn’t listen to landowners, rather one’s only hope as a lay person is to acquire a lawyer with the knowledge and skills to make a case on your behalf. After several weeks I finally made the right phone call to Joe Anglin (now Wildrose MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre) who has been the only individual or organization that has offered any valuable assistance in this arduous process. John Kristensen (technical vice-president of RETA) says it best when he suggests this whole process is really just theatre. I would go a step further and make the statement that this process is more like puppetry, with the PC government, AltaLink, and AESO collaborating in the role of puppet master, holding the strings, and the AUC playing the role of puppet. This theatrical production is intended to appease interveners, who in essence are mere spectators. Although, the pretense that we are being heard exists, as the show goes on we recognize that a mute button has been utilized and that our voices are falling on deaf ears.
I am overcome with sadness, and anger over what little influence we have over land that has been in our family for decades. With the impending 500KV transmission line looming a mere 175 metres from our home, and zigzagging across our agricultural lands, compounded by the fact that I refuse to allow my children to use the towers as playground equipment, it will certainly force us from our home and our heritage. As I watch my little ones playing in the field, I realize that this may be one of the last opportunities to savor this cherished image of my children celebrating the land of their forefathers and I am rendered utterly powerless.