AESO’s long-term transmission plan reconfirms projects as critical infrastructure

The Alberta Electric System Operator’s (AESO) 2012 long-term transmission plan has revalidated three controversial power lines, which the AESO said are needed to support continued provincial and economic growth.

The two-volume, 474-page plan issued June 19 reconfirmed that the Edmonton-Calgary transmission system reinforcement project, which consists of the Eastern Alberta transmission line (EATL) and the Western Alberta transmission line (WATL), and the Heartland transmission project are “critical transmission infrastructure” (CTI), as identified in the 2009 long-term transmission plan.

The plan also reconfirmed two other projects as CTI: the Fort McMurray transmission system reinforcement project, which consists of two 500-kV lines connecting the Fort McMurray area to the Edmonton area, and the proposed South Calgary substation.

All four projects were declared CTI in Bill 50, legislation passed by the provincial legislature in 2009 under Premier Ed Stelmach.

While the EATL, WATL, and Heartland lines have been criticized as “overbuilds,” the report points out that the AESO is required by provincial law to “make arrangements for the construction of transmission facilities in advance of forecast need due to long project development timelines.”

“Building in advance of need and planning for an unconstrained grid provides certainty to investors in new generation projects that they will have the ability to deliver electricity to Alberta households and businesses,’ the AESO said in the plan. “Further, it gives those in other industries the confidence to do business in the province, knowing that power will be there when they need it.”

The AESO also said “the Alberta economy has emerged from the recent global recession, reinforcing the long-term growth prospects for the province.” Calling transmission “a key enabler” of Alberta’s C$300bn (US$292.3bn) economy, the plan said, “the safe and reliable delivery of electricity is essential to ensuring Alberta’s long-term growth and continued standard of living.”

In addition to the CTI projects, the AESO’s plan analysis reconfirmed the need for several other major regional transmission projects that were identified in the 2009 plan. However, the current iteration has incorporated modifications, in part in response to stakeholder consultation, to mitigate costs and meet adjusted growth profiles, the AESO said. As a result, estimated project costs have declined slightly from the estimates contained in the 2009 report.

The plan identified a total of 53 projects at a cost of C$13.5bn (US$13.2bn). One-third of that total, or C$5.2bn (US$5.1bn), represents the CTI projects, while two-thirds, or C$8.3bn (US$8.1bn), support investment of other regional development projects.

The AESO said the plan provides market participants, customers, government and interested stakeholders a view of the proposed development of Alberta’s transmission system over the next 10 to 20 years.

“The plan is a blueprint for ensuring a robust transmission system that will provide reliable service to Albertans for years to come and facilitates a competitive marketplace that recognizes investment in new generation depends on access to an unconstrained and efficient transmission system,” the AESO said.