Heartland appeal still pending before Alberta court

A decision on the role of the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) in approving the Heartland transmission project still has not been issued, despite the passage of more than seven weeks since a three-judge panel of the Alberta Court of Appeal heard arguments from both sides (Case No. 1103-0304AC).

The panel of Justices Marina Paperny, Frans Slatter, and C.S. Brooker on Oct. 12 heard arguments about whether the AUC should have conducted a needs assessment before approving the route for the Heartland transmission project last November. After hearing the arguments, the justices have “reserved their decision” on the matter, meaning that a decision will be issued at an undetermined future date.

As of Dec. 3, there was no estimate when the decision might be made, a court clerk told TransmissionHub. A spokesperson for the AUC told TransmissionHub the commission had no advance knowledge of when a decision might be forthcoming.

A review of recent judgments issued by the court provided little guidance. Many judgments in cases where the justices deemed the law to be clear-cut have been issued within days of the hearing, while other decisions were delayed for several weeks.

The dispute over the Heartland project centered on the interpretation of Bill 50, a measure passed in 2009 by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta under Premier Ed Stelmach that declared the Heartland project, the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line (EATL) and the Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL), and two other projects “critical transmission infrastructure” (CTI).

Based on its reading of a provision of Bill 50, the AUC restricted its examination to the proposed route before granting its approval of the project last year, concluding that the need had been determined by the legislature. Opponents argued that decision was made in error and that, as with other projects, the AUC should have performed a needs assessment before moving to route selection and approval.

During arguments before the Court of Appeal, Heartland project proponents AltaLink and Epcor agreed that the AUC was correct in its determination of its authority and responsibility.

In his March 28 decision granting permission to file an appeal, Justice Ronald Berger agreed the issue merited the attention of, and a decision from, the court. The court’s determination will not be known until its decision is issued.

A decision on the Heartland line will likely have implications for the EATL and the WATL as well as two other projects declared CTI by Bill 50. However, it appears likely that the need for other future projects will once again be determined by the AUC.

On Oct. 23, the provincial government introduced Bill 8, the Electric Utilities Amendment Act 2012, which would essentially repeal Bill 50.

Bill 8 was introduced in response to a report issued in February 2012 by the Critical Transmission Review Committee. In that report, the committee noted that “the economy and the demands on the system” have changed since Bill 50 was passed, that it was no longer needed, and should be repealed.

According to TransmissionHub data, the Heartland line is a proposed C$610m (US$613m), double circuit 500-kV project that will connect the Heartland region northeast of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., to existing 500-kV transmission facilities west of Edmonton.