Transmission line needs in question
Tensions ran high and emotions became heated as a Thursday night meeting to discuss the routing for a proposed St. Paul transmission line turned into a discussion on the need for the project and alleged overbuilds in Alberta.
A panel of ATCO Electric representatives attended the meeting, held at the St. Paul Legion, to answer questions and concerns from about 40 gathered landowners about the transmission line, including its impact on land, farming operations, recreational areas and human health.
Wildrose MLA and outspoken land rights advocate Joe Anglin was also at the meeting, along with his local counterpart, MLA Shayne Saskiw. Anglin started off by saying that ATCO was premature in coming to consult about the proposed line, which would see a 144kV double-circuit line run from along one of two potential routes from St. Paul’s existing substation, terminating up north by about 35 kilometres. “I’m here to tell you, they should never be here. AESO (Alberta Electric System Operator) never got their approval for this line.”
Anglin’s opening remarks sparked interest from the crowd, who started to ask questions about the need for the line.
Ryan Smart, with ATCO, explained that ATCO Electric does not determine the need for transmission lines, but rather it is AESO that has identified the need for additional power to St. Paul. He said that AESO had filed a need identification document with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and there had been a need approval document issued from AUC.
“I will disagree with you on the needs approval,” Anglin said, holding up a folder of AUC decisions to approve various lines in the province. “Your line is not on this document.”
He told the crowd his issue was not with ATCO, but with the overall direction of building transmission lines in Alberta. “What’s happening here is fundamentally wrong on the needs side,” he said. The government is looking to build for “zero congestion” or no traffic jams on the grid, but it is an impossible and costly task that has seen electricity bills double in the past couple of years, and will likely see them double again in the near future, he said. “This is insanity what they’re doing to you.”
Smart pointed out that AESO had advertised and held a “poorly attended” open house about the transmission line project two years ago, but Anglin’s view was that AESO had an “obligation” to hold a public consultation at that time, specifically inviting affected landowners to come out. “You didn’t know this was going to affect you or you would have came.”
He charged that AESO was not set up to help landowners, but was set out to help industry, and build a system for industry.
Landowner Val Pratch, who helped organize the meeting, noted that AESO was invited to come out to the meeting, but declined the invitation. The first and foremost question had become, “Where is the need? Show us the need,” but without AESO representatives present, the question went unanswered. The St. Paul Journal’s calls to AESO and AUC were also not answered as of the Journal’s press deadline.
Anglin advised those present to form a group, get legal counsel and file a review and variance request. “ATCO’s here prematurely. They should not be knocking on your door,” he said, adding people must tell AUC that the line was not amongst the list of approved projects. Other landowners in similar cases have managed to stop unnecessary development, Anglin said, adding, “You are in the driver’s seat to challenge this.”
Despite the attempts of moderator Marvin Bjornstad and ATCO representatives to steer the meeting back to concerns on the transmission line and its routing, residents kept coming back to the question for the need of the project.
One landowner said that he was told that without the line, there would be brownouts or even blackouts in the area.
“They told you that?” Anglin asked incredulously. “That’s false.”
“Is there a legal definition of need?” asked another resident, adding he wondered if this decision meant the difference between his dishwasher working or stalling the next day.
“We don’t speak to need,” Smart said again. However, he noted that big industry and oil and gas activity “takes a big chunk of capacity from time to time.”
Anglin, however, interjected that most people define need as keeping the lights on, but that the need in Alberta is “obscure” and “twisted.” “We’re overbuilding beyond belief and no one knows what the limit is because AESO refuses to define the limit.”
Residents questioned why ATCO could not build along the existing route, and were told that there would then have to be a distance of at least 20 metres between the old line and the new line, meaning the new line would likely end up in the middle of a field.
Anglin again interjected, saying that as a former lineman, he knew it could be done, with some extra costs and care, but that ATCO didn’t want to have take down old lines “because it’s their asset. . . . They’re a business. It does increase their asset base.”
ATCO Electric representatives were visibly frustrated by the end of the evening, noting these meetings can have concrete impacts and can allow representatives to address concerns or look at changing routes. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get a chance to do that,” Smart said.
Pratch said she appreciated Anglin voicing landowners’ concerns about the question of need. “Joe’s voice was very powerful in delivering that message.”
Following the meeting, Saskiw noted the Wildrose continues to demand to repeal of Bill 50, which allowed the PC government to authorize the building of over $16 billion of transmission lines without proving need. “I will continue to stand up for landowners and their property rights. If anyone is concerned about the proposed lines, I encourage them to stop by my office,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.
Pratch noted that Anglin has laid out a map for people to oppose the project, adding, “It’s up to landowners to take it.”
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