Alberta government to move forward with two major power lines

The Alberta government has directed that two controversial HVDC transmission lines proceed as recommended by an independent committee, 10 years after the lines were initially proposed.

”This is not about what’s best for Alberta for the next four years, but rather what’s best for the next four decades,” Energy Minister Ted Morton said in a statement issued in conjunction with the government’s Feb. 23 response to the recommendations of the Critical Transmission Review Committee (CTRC).

Opponents have raised numerous objections to the lines themselves, as well as to the process that identified them as critical transmission infrastructure. While some residents challenged the assessment that additional electric capacity is needed for the region’s future growth and the reliability of its electrical system, others objected to the fact that the Alberta legislature, and not the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), determined that the lines are needed,

“Our decision to proceed with strengthening the backbone of the transmission grid will ensure we can power our economy for the foreseeable future,” Morton said. “As such, we will ensure the costs for these projects are shared equitably between today’s consumers and future generations.”

In its 12-page response, the provincial government outlined the steps it will take to help meet the province’s future energy needs.

The first step requests that the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) proceed with the siting of the Western and Eastern Alberta Transmission Lines (WATL and EATL).

“The existing transmission lines that deliver power from the Edmonton to Calgary areas were built 40 years ago when Alberta’s population was two million less than it is today,” the government said. “Indeed, there are 700,000 more Albertans today than when the need for North-South transmission upgrades was first identified 10 years ago.”

Acknowledging that the lines will come at a cost, the government directed the AUC to examine ways to reduce the cost impact of the lines to consumers. Current estimates of the cost of developing the two lines are C$3 a month for residential consumers and $3.75 per MWh for industrial consumers.

Some believe the government is underestimating the cost of the lines.

“That is a joke,” the president of the Alberta Landowners Council, Colleen Boddez, told TransmissionHub on Feb. 24. “It’s going to be an eight-fold increase to the transmission part of your bill,” she continued. “For large industrial users, it will mean they’ll have to leave the province…and take thousands of jobs with them,” Boddez predicted.

In its response to the CTRC, the provincial government acknowledged that Bill 50, legislation under which the previous Cabinet declared the lines “critical transmission infrastructure” (CTI) was no longer needed and should be repealed.

“[W]ith the ‘catch-up’ provided by the CTI projects and improvements to the regulatory approval process, the Cabinet authority to approve future CTI is no longer required,” the government said. “Accordingly, the government will introduce legislation in the fall 2012 session to amend the Electric Utilities Act placing both the need assessment and routing of future transmission projects under the AUC.”

Alberta Landowners Council’s Boddez called that too little, too late and said the bill should have been repealed before the power lines are put into place. Together with the previously approved Heartland transmission line, the three projects will “break Alberta’s economy,” she said.

According to data on TransmissionHub.com, the EATL is a 310-mile, 500-kV transmission line that originates in the Gibbons-Redwater area northeast of Edmonton and terminates at a southeast hub in the Brooks area south of Calgary. The WATL is a 279-mile, 500-kV transmission line that originates at Genesee, Alberta and terminates at Langdon, Alberta. Both projects will result in increased reliability and reduced congestion in the area.

At present, there is no timetable for construction of the lines.