Critical transmission review committee to hold meetings on two lines in Alberta

The Critical Transmission Review Committee, a panel appointed by the Alberta Government to review two high-voltage transmission lines between the Edmonton and Calgary regions, will meet to discuss the Eastern Alberta transmission line and the Western Alberta transmission ine starting next week.

Under the province’s previous premier Ed Stelmach, the government declared the lines critical infrastructure. The Alberta Utilities Commission had begun Phase 2 hearings to deal with siting and related issues when current premier Allison Redford placed those hearings on hold in late 2011 pending the recommendations of the committee.

“The government basically wants a second opinion on these two lines,” committee chair Brian Heidecker told TransmissionHub Jan. 4.

Heidecker said the panel will be considering five topics, starting with the forecast need for the lines. “We’ll be asking participants if they agree with the forecast [from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO)] and, if not, what is [their] alternative forecast?”

Other topics will address whether the lines are the right engineering solution, whether they should be alternating or direct current, and the timeline for construction.

Finally, the panel will entertain comments on the Electric Statues Amendment Act, 2009 (a/k/a Bill 50), the legislation passed under the Stelmach administration that gives the provincial government the right to declare certain projects “critical transmission infrastructure” and bypass needs assessment.

“We’ll get comments on that, for sure,” Heidecker said.

Input will come from groups representing landowners, electricity producers and large and small consumers. To date, 36 groups have been invited to provide written comments.

Heidecker says transparency is critically important, and that he has told participants that every piece of information presented at these meetings will become public information. “The minute we start saying, ‘We can’t share this; we can’t share that,’ that just lends itself to suspicion and diminishes from the credibility of our report.”

While the meetings will be open to whoever wishes to attend, because of the high level of technical detail that will be discussed Heidecker is not anticipating much participation from the general public. Instead, the panel will be encouraging members of the public to comment before the Property Rights Committee, a concurrent set of meetings being chaired by the province’s environment minister.

Heidecker says the two sets of meetings are linked, but only peripherally. “A lot of the uncertainty and the angst that’s out there has to do with expropriation and a whole range of genuine [concerns about] property rights and issues. That’s not our mandate at all,” Heidecker said.

Heidecker is optimistic that the meetings will inform the committee, and that the committee members simultaneously will be able to inform the participants about the issues and, eventually, the panel’s conclusions.

“Reasonable people will come to reasonable conclusions, given reasonable information,” Heidecker said.

The meetings will take place in Calgary Jan. 10-12, and Edmonton Jan. 18-20. Materials presented will be posted on the Alberta Energy web site within a few days of the meetings’ conclusion.

The committee must provide its report to the Minister of Energy by Feb. 10.