AUC approves Heartland’s east route; declines to order portions placed underground

The Alberta Utilities Commission on Nov. 1 approved the proposed east route for the 500-kV Heartland transmission line, the route preferred by the line’s developers. In its decision issued November 1, the AUC found the developers’ application was in the public interest and met the need specified in law by the provincial government.

A spokesperson for developer EPCOR said the decision will positively affect many Albertans. The company will now begin its detailed engineering work and will hopefully being construction before the end of the year. The target in-service date is 1Q13.

The approved route runs east of the city, a route the commission concluded was both in the public interest and superior to the alternate west route based on land-use, cost and environmental considerations. 

A significant portion of the east route will be inside a Transportation/Utility Corridor (TUC), a corridor established by the provincial government in the 1970s to provide room for future transportation and utility infrastructure.

Further, the commission did not direct that any portion of the line be placed underground, concluding that the option “ would not mitigate electric and magnetic fields (EMF) or materially mitigate the impact on property values, while substantially raising costs.”

The AUC’s decision requires developers to use monopoles for a 9.5-km (5.9 mi) stretch of the line to reduce the visual impact on residents. In addition, the Commission asked the applicants to examine additional options for moving the line farther away from an elementary school, also to reduce visual impact.

Estimates provided by the applicants indicated that the cost for the line on the preferred route, with monopoles, would be approximately CAN$610m (US$599m).

The EPCOR spokesperson said the timing of the decision should prove beneficial to keeping the project on schedule. “It was important to get this behind us because we wanted to take advantage of at least two full winter construction seasons,” he said. “So now that we’ve got the decision in our hands, we believe we can make our in-service date.” 

Utility companies in the area prefer wintertime construction. “In the winter, the ground is more stable and it’s easier to get in and out” of remote construction sites, the spokesman said, while summertime construction means dealing with unstable marsh lands and wetlands.

Under discussion since 2008, the Heartland project involves construction of a double circuit 500-kV line to connect the Heartland region (northeast of Fort Saskatchewan) to existing 500-kV transmission facilities that currently run along the southern edge of Edmonton.

Updated at 5:25 p.m. EDT to include comments and additional details from EPCOR.