Powerful opinions expressed at AltaLink open house

AltaLink hears concerns from Ponoka residents during open house

  • Sep. 9, 2010 8:00 a.m.

By Dale Cory

Not in my backyard.

Or to take it a step further — not in Alberta’s backyard!

The NIMBY attitude appeared to prevail among those citizens who attended an open house hosted by AltaLink Aug. 31 at the Kinsmen Community Centre in Ponoka.

AltaLink, the sole owner of energy transmission lines in Alberta, plans to build a new power line through central Alberta. The Calgary company is staging a series of open houses to consult with Albertans on exactly where the 500-kilovolt line, which will stretch from the Genesee plant west of Edmonton to a site near Calgary, should be built.

There are really two parts to this story.

First, does Alberta need these new transmission lines?

And, if indeed we do need them, as AltaLink claims, then the next step will be to determine the best path for the towers and lines to be located. Hence, the NIMBY effect on the whole process, considering one potential route stretched along the east side of Ponoka, then turns directly west.

But some of the citizens who attended the open house in Ponoka still question whether this new line needs to be built at all.

“I think we should convince them to not put the line in at all,” insisted Barb Sijbrandi who has a dairy farm 15 minutes northwest of Ponoka on Menaik Road. “In my opinion, I don’t think the line is necessary. I don’t believe what we are being told is accurate — that the line is necessary for supporting Alberta power and the needs of Alberta. I don’t believe that.”

A couple from west of Usona, who wished to remain anonymous, say the lines won’t be visible on their property, but will be close enough that they are concerned.

“We wanted to make sure they were still going to keep what they had on the proposal and were not going to change it. We’re not sure they’re are telling us the truth on everything. We’re not sure if we need this. We’ve been to a meeting that said we don’t really need this. But we’ve talked to other people who say we do need this. No matter who we talk to, we still feel these new lines are for export purposes, not domestic use.”

However, AltaLink is adamant the new transmission lines are needed, and attempted to get that message across to the 220 citizens who attended the open house in Ponoka.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve done anything in this province, and in that time, we’ve more than doubled our consumption of electricity and have added a million people,” stated Leigh Clark, senior vice-president of AltaLink. “Generally, the reaction from most folks is that they understand we need new transmission lines. For those who are on one of the routes we are still considering, folks do have concerns, and that’s what this process is all about.”

Clark insists the current system, nearing 40 years old, is too heavily loaded, and the lines heat up causing heat loss, which costs Albertans about $4 million a month.

“That system, which we own and operate for Albertans, is a bit like a ’74 Chevy. We’ve been running her flat out for a long time. In fact, we’re red-lining that Chevy these days,” says Leigh. “We’ve doubled the consumption of electricity but we’ve done nothing basically to the grid. In fact, we waste the amount of power that Red Deer consumes at any one time. Common sense dictates that at some point we need to build new lines. The system is already below North American reliability standards.”

AltaLink is now into its second round of discussions. The company began by offering preliminary routes for public consideration. Over the past few months, AltaLink dropped some routes, refined some, and added other routes. Now AltaLink is back in the public’s eye in a detailed consultation process designed to nail down the final route.

“It’s no surprise to me that there are some folks who are not interested in hosting a transmission line on behalf of the rest of us,” says Clarke. “But, at the end of the day, all Albertans need transmission lines, and the job for us is to listen very carefully to those folks who might host them, to treat them well, and compensate them fairly.”

In the information package handed out to the public during the open house, compensation details include a one-time payment for the preferred route expected to range from $40,000 to $200,000.

Landowners will receive compensation in one of two forms should they host transmission facilities on their property — the easement, which would be a one-time payment, and the annual structure payment, which would be ongoing payments.

But Barb Sijbrandi still has concerns regarding the project.

“I came out because we’ve received various packages in the mail. This transmission line is 300 metres from our farm, so we have huge concerns about it. We have young children under the age of five, and there’s a lot of information stating there are various health concerns in regards to these lines. Plus, (this could affect) our farming operation.”

The estimated cost of the project ranges between $770 million and $1.43 billion. A $1.1 billion project would represent an increase of $1.10 per month on the typical residential utility bill.

AltaLink will host open houses in Linden Sept. 8 and Indus Sept. 9. The company will then assess the feedback they have received, and make a recommendation to the Alberta Utilities Commission as to which of the potential routes will offer the least impact on Alberta residents.

That process should take another year. The entire project is expected to take about two years.

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