Population growth creates challenges for Alberta power

The United Nations estimates 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and another billion do not have reliable service.

But in energy rich Alberta, people expect the lights to turn on when they flip a switch.

“Our biggest job is to ensure the power system is reliable for everybody in Alberta, whether that is big industry, the corner store or a farm or your house,” said Scott Schreiner, director of external engagement with AltaLink, the province’s largest electricity transmission company.

It owns and operates 12,000 kilo-metres of the province’s power lines and 300 substations, which provide power to 85 percent of Albertans.

AltaLink has applications before the Alberta Utilities Commission to build more high voltage transmission lines. Hearings are underway for the Western Alberta Transmission Line, which AltaLink hoped to be operating three years ago. If approved by the end of this year, AltaLink could start building it in 2013 and running it by April 2015.

Alberta’s Electric System Operator, which analyzes the need for power, says the province’s power consumption more than doubled in 20 years of rapid economic growth from 33 million megawatt hours in 1987 to 69 million in 2007.

“The need is pretty clear as far back as 2004, and we need to get moving on these projects to continue having a reliable system and that we are getting the best economy out of the system we do have,” said Schreiner.

“In 2011, we actually imported 30 times more power than we exported.”

AltaLink has two proposed routes to run the new high voltage lines from near Edmonton to Calgary. The company prefers to run them beside existing transmitters west of Highway 2 rather than east of the highway.

The preferred route has less agriculture impact.

“It has a lower environmental im-pact because it doesn’t fragment the landscape by building a transmission line where one doesn’t already exist,” Schreiner said.

The old 240 KV lines will continue to move power.

“Instead of being the backbone for the big system lines, they become the support lines that feed central and southern Alberta,” he said.

The WATL line should provide power for the next 60 years at least.

AltaLink purchases the rights of way from land owners at market value and needs about 11 acres on a quarter section. It also pays compensation of $1,200 per tower per year to landowners for the inconvenience of having to farm around them.

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