Energy battle heats upin Alberta

A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with relatives at my cousins’ farm near Rosthern, Sask. A goodly number of the crew was from Alberta.

After discussing the weather, which was top of mind on the farm, and family chatter, what was the next most important topic in the conversational loop? Insects? Diseases? Calgary traffic?

Nope. Electricity.

Rural and urban alike, Albertans are talking about the power grid.

The arguments for and against the addition of powerlines over the next few years are complex, but the battle really boils down to one thing. Does Alberta need a colossal upgrade to its power transmission capabilities, and if so, are the social and economic effects so significant that the projects should be abandoned or at least scaled back?

Alberta has already had a couple of brief brownouts to reduce the load on its system, which doesn’t bode well for any future increase in use. But how much more electricity does the booming province need?

There’s little doubt that use has soared in the last 25 years. For instance, Albertans consumed 33 million megawatt hours in 1987; by 2007, that rose to 69 million, more than double the 1987 number. This kind of increase has prompted the Alberta Electric System Operator to propose approval of four major projects and 53 projects in all, at a cost of $13.5 billion.

Some landowners argue that the main reason for the expansion is export. Meanwhile, those who have land expropriated will enjoy the lovely sight of transmission towers, as they try to farm around them.

Other landowners are simply, and perhaps more realistically, trying to influence where the towers go, instead of trying to stop their installation.

This is part of the escalating fight over economic growth, the energy it consumes, and how it affects citizens. Making the issue much more interesting is the considerable uptick in agriculture, where every acre is a valuable commodity and farmers more important to the overall economy. Which booming industry wins the war?

Similar issues are ongoing in Manitoba, although there is less of a debate over whether the province needs a new transmission line, and more of a debate over where it will go. Soon, the issue may begin to heat up in Saskatchewan.

See next week for part 2.

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