By Jasmine Franklin
Transmission lines have been a hot topic since Bill 50 was passed and AltaLink is trying to ease some of the concern by hosting open houses across the province, including in Ponoka, to hear public concerns.
“We are learning things in these open houses that we will take back to our shop and use to try and find what we think is probably the best route, and an alternative route, and come back to talk to folks about it again later in the year,” said vice-president of AltaLink, Leigh Clarke. “Now that we’re out, we’ve been asked to find the best route and public consultation is absolutely critical — that’s what this year is about, listening listening and listening.”
On Feb. 2, about 188 people dropped in to the Kinsmen Community Centre to both hear what AltaLink, Canada’s independent transmission company, had to say and in turn, voice their opinion to the company.
Landowner Ross Fulton said he came in to let his voice be heard.
“I think they should put the new line alongside an already existing line,” Fulton said. “If it’s already there then nothing really has to change, whereas creating a new line where there isn’t one will just make a whole new set of problems.”
Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ray Prins and Mayor Larry Henkleman also attended the open house. Prins said his main concern is to ensure landowners are being fairly treated, respected, compensated and that they’re aware of their options.
“Compensation is a huge issue for landowners,” Prins said. “I’m here to hear the people, and what I’ve heard so far is that some are pleased, while some say no amount of money will ever sway them.”
Prins added he was pleased with the turnout of those coming to speak with Altalink and that the company was well informed.
“We’ve reached a point where we do need a new line,” Prins said. “And I mean, it has to go somewhere, but we also need to ensure everyone is heard.”
Some landowners however, still aren’t so sure.
Inside the open house were billboards and posters filled with information. A few of those were maps indicating potential transmission line routes. One landowner found his property on the map only to discover one proposed route ran directly over top of his home.
“It’s uncomfortably close,” said Elwyn Thomas. “I don’t want that — who will want to buy that property if I ever sell it?”
Thomas was also concerned with the potential line running over top of his cattle barn, mentioning any slight electrical currents seem to spook the cattle.
Henkleman said he voiced his and council’s concerns to the company but agreed with Prins that a new line is needed.
“We do feel it’s a necessary project,” Henkleman said. “But our concern is the proximity to the town of Ponoka for future growth 50 years from now. It could complicate development depending on how close to our water and waste lagoons it may be because those will eventually have to be expanded.”
What is a transmission line?
A transmission line sends energy to every home, light and business in Alberta. At first, an alternating current (AC) line, one that circulates current in one direction then in reverse, was to be built. But after a public outrage it was decided a direct current (DC) line, one that sends the current continuously in the same direction, would be used instead. The DC line will leave a smaller carbon footprint, Clarke said.
“The transmission system, in addition to keeping the lights on, also makes sure that any generator can get on in the province and compete against any other generator,” Clarke said. “Competition between generators is good for consumers because it helps bring prices down. Most of the electricity bill is actually generation and that competition we enable helps to bring the bill down.”
Why is a new transmission line needed?
According to AltaLink’s website, Alberta’s population has grown by one million people, or 42 per cent, since 1988. Since 1988, only one major line has been built.
Clarke described the province’s transmission system in simple terms.
“It’s working harder than it should; it’s a 1974 Chevy,” he said. “We’ve changed the oil, given it new tires but with twice the power now it needs an addition.”
The biggest concerns Clarke has heard are that people want to be heard, they understand the line is needed but it’s not wanted on their property and if it must be put on their property, compensation must be provided.
“The AESO (Alberta electric System Operators) has been recognizing there’s been a need to reinforce the transmission system in Alberta for some time. I think Bill 50 was a recognition by the government that for a number of projects the process had to be accelerated,” Clarke said. “This was to ensure we could continue to have a reliable transmission system and make sure the generating market in this province continues to function properly.”
How much will it cost?
AESO determined that $16.6 billion of transmission upgrades must be made over the next 10 years with $12.1 of that considered urgently needed.
What happens from here? How is the decision made?
After the public sessions, AltaLink will take the feedback and factors such as environmental, technical, and cost to narrow down the routes to two choices.
The two options will then be taken to the Alberta Utilities Commission for approval and then back to the public for further consultation.
The final decision however, is ultimately made by the AUC upon the submission of AltaLink’s requested routes.
Clark mentioned that anyone with further concerns by the final stages will be able to go in front of the AUC and present them.