Alta. to study high-voltage line alternatives

On the heels of a group of southern Alberta farmers losing a court appeal over the siting of a high-voltage line to the U.S., the Alberta government plans to consider new options for such lines in the future.

Provincial Energy Minister Mel Knight on Thursday announced his department will commission a study of electricity system technologies such as underground transmission of high-voltage power lines.

Such a review is expected to provide a “comprehensive assessment and analysis of state-of-the-art electric transmission systems, with specific focus on high-voltage direct current; underground; and other new developing technologies.”

Alberta Energy has put out a request for proposals (RFP) to engineering firms to conduct such a study, with a submission deadline of May 22. A report is expected back to the provincial government this summer.

“Getting additional transmission built in Alberta is critical to deliver reliable power service to Albertans,” said Knight. “Electricity keeps our food cold in the fridge, keeps our furnace fans blowing on cold days, lights up our rooms at home and work, and is an essential input for industry.”

Thus, “it’s important for us to explore all options for strengthening our transmission system,” he said. “We need to understand the costs and benefits of new technology before making decisions.”

The RFP comes after the Alberta Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed an appeal by a landowners’ group looking to block a proposed overhead high-voltage line running over 300 km from Lethbridge, across the U.S. border southwest of Milk River, Alta., to Great Falls, Mont.

The National Energy Board (NEB) approved the request from Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. (MATL) to build the international power line (IPL). MATL, a project of Toronto-based Tonbridge Power, says the proposed line will be the first intertie between the two regions’ transmission grids.

MATL also applied to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB), which in turn said the power line is in the public interest and the EUB had no jurisdiction to consider alternative routes apart from the general corridor proposed in the NEB permit.

The landowners argued that the EUB is duty-bound to consider alternative routes for such power lines.

“Extensive consideration”

However, in a 2-1 decision, the appeal court ruled Tuesday that “we are satisfied that the EUB’s assessment of public interest was made having regard to the broad range of benefits and burdens associated with the construction and operation of the IPL.

“The assessment was made after a comprehensive review of the specific social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed line, including those that are unique to a merchant line. There is no reason to disturb the conclusion reached by the (EUB) with respect to public interest.”

Furthermore, the majority opinion found that the EUB’s decision showed “extensive consideration of agricultural and other land use impacts; the process of land acquisition required for the transmission line, including impact on land values; impacts on irrigation and aerial spraying; impacts on, mitigation and protection of, the environment; and impact of construction and operation of the transmission line with respect to noise, wetlands, birds, wildlife, electromagnetic fields, and radio and television interference.”

The Canadian Press news agency on Tuesday quoted the landowners’ Medicine Hat lawyer, Scott Stenbeck, as saying he and his clients will consider an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in the matter.

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