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Controversial transmission line gets the go ahead

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by Richard Gilbert

Alberta's energy regulator recently approved the construction of a massive energy transmission line, but several municipalities are disappointed with the decision and the public consultation process.

Alberta's energy regulator recently approved the construction of a massive energy transmission line, but several municipalities are disappointed with the decision and the public consultation process.

“The Heartland Project Team appreciates the contribution of the many stakeholders, who have been involved with the project during the past few years,” said Guy Bridgeman, EPCOR senior vice-president, strategic development and planning, and spokesman for the Heartland Transmission Project.

“We will now take some time to go through the decision, and expect to begin construction as early as December.”

An application by AltaLink Management Ltd. and EPCOR Distribution & Transmission Inc. for the construction of the Heartland transmission line was approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on Nov. 1.

In the decision, the AUC found it is in the public interest for the applicants to construct a 500-kilovolt (kV), double-circuit transmission line that would extend about 65 km from south Edmonton to the Heartland region near Fort Saskatchewan.

The project, which includes an associated substation and an 18-km 240-kilovolt transmission connection, was identified by the Alberta government as critical transmission infrastructure in 2009.

It is the first transmission line to be approved after the government passed Bill 50. The bill gives cabinet the right to designate projects as critical electrical-system infrastructure. These projects are not then subject to a needs or cost assessment at any public hearing.

For the government, the decision marks the completion of the most substantial application process in the AUC’s history.

However, some of the participants in the review process are disappointed.

“The member municipalities of the Alberta Industrial Heartland Association are deeply concerned with your government’s decision to instruct the Alberta Utilities Commission to move forward with the Heartland Transmission Line project,” wrote Linda Osinchuk, chair of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association and the mayor of Strathcona County.

“This contradicts the logic and reasoning displayed in suspending the AUC hearings on the other two north-south transmission line projects. It is absolutely critical to reassess the need for all three projects, including the Heartland Transmission Line.”

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said on Oct. 21 that the application for the Heartland transmission project was moving forward as planned, while the AUC had suspended the review process and hearings on the Western Alberta transmission line and Eastern Alberta transmission line.

Initially, there was some confusion, as it appeared the government was also suspending the review process for the Heartland transmission line.

For several hours, it was thought that the government was making a major policy change by reviewing its overall approach to critical transmission infrastructure.

Osinchuck made the argument to the government that major shifts in the economic outlook for Alberta’s Industrial Heartland have resulted in a flawed Needs Identification Document for the Heartland Transmission Line.

“Notably, a much slower pace of industrial development in the region combined with major power users exploring co-generation options on site created a paradigm shift in electrical power transmission needs,” she said.

“This new reality appears to have been overlooked in the decision making process for the transmission lines<0x2026> Proceeding with only the Heartland portion of the system could result in incompatible design and installation with the remaining and future grid network.”

Despite Bill 50 being passed, critics insist an independent assessment should be undertaken to determine the need for new lines, rather than allowing cabinet to approve projects.

The AUC concluded an underground option would not be in the public interest because it would cost an additional $300 million, but it would not mitigate electric and magnetic fields or the impact on property values.

“Based on the evidence, this decision exposes some 15,000 residents to potential long-term health effects, and imposes an aesthetically unappealing overhead transmission design on our community,” said Osinchuk.

“We are saddened and concerned by a decision that appears to be more about cost than health.”

The AUC found that evidence showed there would be no material difference between underground and overhead lines at the nearest residences, schools, daycares, hospitals and businesses.

The commission has required monopoles for a 9.5-km stretch from Hwy. 14 to Baseline Road, to reduce the visual impact on residents in the area.

“Although the monopoles are a marginal improvement, we continue to believe that placing transmission lines underground is a viable option for addressing health impacts and concerns, and encourage the Government of Alberta to consider that approach for the well being of Albertans,” said Osinchuk.

Estimates provided by the applicants indicated that the cost for the line on the preferred route, without monopoles, would be $582 million. The cost with monopoles would be about $610 million.

Alberta’s Industrial Heartland is a non-profit association of municipalities dedicated to sustainable eco-industrial development.

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