Debate likely on power line improvements

Ever since the nuclear power plant discussion died down, Saskatchewan has been largely left out of the big electricity debate, which has been sparking conversation, both inside and outside legislatures, in its neighbouring provinces.

It will be interesting to see whether a similar debate emerges as Sask-Power, the province’s electrical utility, invests $10 billion into its system over the next 10 years.

The plan is starting to have an effect already. SaskPower has asked for a rate increase to fund some of these improvements, amounting to five percent (well, 4.9) for everyone except its biggest customers, which will see a 6.1 percent increase.

Farms, on average, will pay another $10 per month if the increase is approved.

When rate increases and land expropriations begin to rear their heads, people often complain that it’s big business driving the expansion, and what about the little guy?

It’s true that industry and business eat up the lion’s share of the power. In Saskatchewan, industry takes up 37 percent of the megawatt hours; oilfields, 15 percent; and commercial 18 percent, leaving 15 percent for residential, seven percent for farms and seven percent to resellers.

However, power system upgrades are partly due to the fact that the economy is also powering along. No economy? No jobs, no money.

But there may be bumps on the happy road of economic growth in Saskatchewan, as well as in Alberta and Manitoba.

While a significant portion of the investment will go to existing infrastructure, including the Boundary Dam, Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth power station and hydroelectric facilities, there will still be upgraded and new powerlines.

SaskPower said it develops its routes with help from an independent transmission line routing study, as well as external engineering companies. They promise an extensive public consultation process. Compensation for the market value of the land and costs of farming will occur.

Unfortunately, compensation for land that has fairly recently become incredibly valuable as farmland isn’t entirely, well, compensatory. Farmers want to farm the land — all of it — not dodge around power towers.

It’s a balancing act. Perhaps the Saskatchewan experience will be less confrontational than in the other two provinces. Maybe less farmland will be affected. It will be interesting.

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