AltaLink has a habit of providing only that information at Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearings that favour its recommendations. The company consistently withholds information that helps residents and landowners affected by their infrastructure understand the various options available, including the pros and cons of each.
Another recent example has been brought to RETA’s attention by a landowner at the Summer Village of Kapasiwin, which is a lakefront community on Lake Wabamun 65km west of Edmonton. The AUC held a hearing last month on an application by AltaLink to re-string high voltage transmission lines on towers which stand along the lakefront in the Village of Wabamun and in several summer villages on the lake, including Kapasiwin.
The Village of Wabamun has been trying to build its tourism industry for several years now, as Edmonton and area residents look for places close to home for a variety of recreational opportunities. The neighbouring Wabamun Lake Provincial Park was refurbished several years ago as part of providing enhanced camping, picnicking and related recreational opportunities in the area.
Unfortunately, enhancing viewscapes and the local tourism industry is detrimentally affected by the continued placement of high voltage power lines along the lakefront. Village of Wabamun residents thought that the transmission lines would be removed when the TransAlta coal-fired power plant was decommissioned in 2010. Unfortunately, such was not the case, as AltaLink had purchased the transmission lines some time ago for other purposes.
In any event, interveners at the recent AUC hearing submitted that the lines should be re-routed away from the lakefront for long-term economic, health, environmental and other reasons. The Village of Wabamun had made it clear during earlier public consultations that it was seeking a re-routing of the lines away from the lakefront to a corridor along Highway 16.
As AltaLink often does whenever a community, village, town or city requests that another route be considered for one of its high voltage transmission lines, it said such could only be done if the Village of Wabamun pays any additional costs. One would think that a company that trumpets its community relations to the extent that AltaLink does (on the radio and in newspaper ads), would consider all the costs associated with its projects, including negative property value, tourism, health, environmental and other economic impacts. Unfortunately, AltaLink has a history of not caring about these other costs.
At the AUC hearing last month, AltaLink suggested that the cost of re-routing would be about $18 million while the cost of re-stringing on existing towers along the lakefront would be only $4 million. Apparently, a discussion did take place at the hearing about the existing towers being at the end of their economic life and that they would require replacement or major maintenance. No surprise……AltaLink said they did not know how much it would cost to replace or refurbish the old existing towers. Of course this means it is not known how much more than AltaLink’s estimate of $4 million it would actually cost to “re-string” along the lakefront. Is it possible that it might actually cost as much to replace the existing towers and string new lines on them as to re-route the line away from the lakefront?
In summary, AltaLink attended the hearing last month with very little information to adequately compare the costs of the two options. One would think that a proper evaluation of the re-routing option in relation to a truthful evaluation of the “re-stringing” option is a necessary prerequisite to the AUC being able to determine which option would be in the best “public interest”.
Let’s hope the AUC does indeed take the public interest into account as it develops its decision on this application. It is obvious that the re-stringing option is not in the best interests of the Village of Wabamun, adjacent summer villages, development of local tourism opportunities, or protection of the lakefront environment.