Alberta regulators approve Western Alberta Transmission Line

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on Dec. 6 approved the route for the proposed Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL), a 500-kV HVDC line and associated facilities that will run approximately 218 miles from west of Edmonton, Alta., to the Langdon area east of Calgary.

Regulators approved a route with several route segments and tower options chosen to minimize landowner and agricultural impacts. In addition, more than 60% of the approved route parallels existing lines, minimizing the project’s visual and environmental effects and disturbance of land, according to the AUC.

“Many landowners’ suggestions were able to be incorporated into what became the preferred route and in the end, I think everybody benefited by the process,” a spokesperson for the AUC told TransmissionHub Dec. 7.

The AUC did order several adjustments to the applicant’s preferred route, including a 23-mile stretch known as the Crossfield Tie option, finding that “agricultural and visual impacts … and the environmental and cost considerations” favored that option.

The commission also directed the use of less obtrusive monopole structures in a 7.5-mile stretch east of Gleniffer Reservoir, made a minor adjustment to the route near where it would cross Hwy. 2 north of Crossfield, Alta., and directed developer AltaLink Management to investigate a further routing adjustment over a two-mile stretch in that area.

Overall, based on land use, social, cost, and environmental considerations, the route approved by the AUC was found to be in the public interest and superior to other potential routes, the AUC said.

AltaLink will begin constructing the C$1.5bn (US$1.52bn) project in early 2013.

The AUC’s approval came three weeks after regulators approved the route for the companion Eastern Alberta Transmission Line (EATL), a C$1.6bn (US$1.62bn) HVDC transmission line that will run through eastern Alberta to be constructed by ATCO Electric.

Together, the WATL and the EATL comprise one of four projects declared “critical transmission infrastructure” (CTI) by the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, also known as Bill 50, which was passed by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in 2009 under then-Premier Ed Stelmach.

A challenge to the AUC’s approval of the route for the Heartland project, one of the other CTI projects under Bill 50, is pending before the Alberta Court of Appeal (Case No. 1103-0304AC). Opponents claimed the AUC erred when it determined it was neither authorized nor required to conduct a needs assessment, but only to approve the routing.

Although unable to comment specifically on whether a decision on the Heartland transmission project would have an effect on the WATL or the EATL, the AUC spokesperson said, “In all of our critical transmission infrastructure projects, we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that the process was fair and the right decisions were made.”

More than 10% of the 326-page decision approving the route for the WATL is devoted to a challenge of the AUC’s jurisdiction over the WATL by parties who argued that the project was an international project and therefore fell outside the AUC’s jurisdiction.

The commission disagreed, ruling that the line is not an international or interprovincial work or undertaking.

“Not only it is entirely within Alberta structurally, but it is controlled by Albertans and is not subject to anyone else’s jurisdiction,” the spokesperson said.

The decision marks the completion of an AUC review process that formally began in January 2011, included many thousands of pages of documents, nearly 1,000 exhibits and more than 75 witnesses, according to the AUC.