Energy line opponents target proposed route

Grant Budgeon could have nine sets of mega towers crossing seven quarters of his Crossfield-area farm if a proposed electrical transmission line goes ahead.

He is among hundreds of Alberta landowners protesting a series of high power transmission lines proposed for the next few years. Many argue the deal to put in the lines is already over, and their final stand is designed to influence the route of the Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL) project.

If the company is allowed to build its preferred route, Budgeon calculates nearly 600 landowners would be affected.

“It is unfortunate because this is putting Albertans against Albertans,” he said.

He said he and other farmers would prefer the routes run along fence lines so they are less intrusive instead of crossing through the middle of fields and in some instances, close to people’s homes.

The project is one of several 500 kilovolt power lines the Alberta government designated as critical under its 2009 Electric Statutes Amendment Act, also called Bill 50.

AltaLink, the province’s largest electricity transmitter, wants to build a 350 kilometre high voltage direct current line between the Genesee substation west of Edmonton and the Langdon substation east of Calgary, as well as associated converter stations.

The preferred route parallels 220 kilometres of existing transmission lines west of Highway 2.

Alberta Utilities Commission public hearings are underway until the end of July to review AltaLink’s application. Most of the landowner presentations want the company to take the route less travelled.

Gary Edward said any hope of expansion for his farm is dashed if the preferred line crosses over his dairy farm near Crossfield. He has lived there since 1978, but power lines and pipeline rights of way prohibit him from expanding or gaining full market resale value. Up to three sets of towers could run diagonally across a quarter section, he told the utilities commission at a recent hearing in Didsbury.

“It may sound selfish, but I think trespassing by our province’s utilities should be shared by more than just a few. The philosophy of corridors is a killer for landowners when trespassing affects people’s ability to make a living. It affects their way of life and I think we need to take another look at it.”

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which plans the province’s energy needs, said upgrades are needed to meet future growth.

The projects have been controversial almost from Day 1. The construction plans created such conflicts that the province forced all involved to start the process over from scratch.

The privacy commissioner found the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) guilty in 2007 of illegally hiring private investigators to spy on Rimbey area landowners opposed to the construction of a 500- kilovolt transmission line.

The EUB was dismantled and the AUC was created and accepted a March 2011 application to build the WATL line.

Last November, the Heartland Transmission Project was approved. It is a 500-kilovolt, double-circuit transmission line with an associated substation and an 18 km, 240-kilovolt transmission connection. It would extend 65 km from south Edmonton to Fort Saskatchewan.

Landowners sued to stop the Heartland line. The Alberta Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the case, which argues there was political interference in the AUC process and that the commission failed to consider the social and economic impacts of the line. It is expected to be heard in September.

Colleen Boddez, president of the Alberta Landowners Council, helped fund the appeal through a website and public meetings.

The council is pegging its hopes on the appeal to stop all the lines.

“I think we have a very good chance of proving the social and economic impact would be too great and the Alberta economy will suffer because of it,” Boddez said.

“We wished we had been able to adjourn the WATL and EATL (East Alberta Transmission Line) with that request, but that didn’t happen.”

The AUC ruled it would continue its hearings, even though one proposal is now before the courts.

Landowners are compensated for towers placed on their property, but many argue it is not adequate. Boddez said landowners are told to sign and grant the right of way or get nothing later.

The province has tried to address such disputes by forming the Critical Transmission Review Committee last December.

In its report released in February, it supported the need to expand the transmission grid and recommended that the two high voltage lines between the Edmonton and Calgary regions proceed.

The University of Calgary’s school of public policy disputed the official cost of the lines and said cheaper alternatives should be explored.

“The proposed two HVDC lines are inefficient because system reliability and supply adequacy can be maintained at significantly lower resource costs to Albertans through other means,” said economist Jeffrey Church and engineer John MacCormack, when presenting the report.

Church and MacCormack recommended that an independent commission be responsible for transmission grid regulations.

They argued that the legislation pays inadequate attention to costs of inefficient overbuilding and the consequence of higher than necessary electricity costs for Alberta consumers.

However, they did not condemn the proposal for more electricity.

“We do not conclude that any north-south reinforcement of the transmission grid is inefficient or not required. We do not conclude that a generation-only solution is optimal. A mix of generation and transmission expansion may be optimal,” they said.

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