AltaLink High Voltage Power Lines Continue to Kill Birds

•May 12, 2016 • Comments Off on AltaLink High Voltage Power Lines Continue to Kill Birds

Greg Wagner, a local wildlife biologist, has found 11 dead trumpeter swans and one dead snowy owl under an AltaLink high voltage line that was built two years ago in southern Alberta, and Wagner estimates that number could be up to 10 times higher because he’s only been in the area that’s accessible to the public (Postmedia). Trumpeter swans are currently listed as a species “At Risk” by the Alberta Government and were recently listed as a “Threatened” species, with only about 1,500 to 2,000 mature individuals estimated to occur in Alberta.

Wagner expressed concerns in 2014 about AltaLink’s new overhead high voltage line that surrounds the western half of Frank Lake, an internationally-recognized Important Bird Area (IBA) managed by Ducks Unlimited. IBAs are recognized as being globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations.  Just a few of the more interesting bird species found at Frank Lake include: trumpeter swan, tundra swan, short-eared owl, eared grebe, black-crowned night heron, marbled godwit and black-necked stilt. In 2014, Wagner said Frank Lake is a major staging area for trumpeter swans, a “Threatened” species in Alberta (at that time), and having birds fly into the wires remains a concern. “We know that these lines can be very hard on large birds with heavy wing loadings like swans, cranes, and Canada geese. They don’t have much manoeuvrability.” He continued, “Within the MD of Foothills, you only have one internationally significant wetland for birds and this is it, so why do you even have one new transmission line coming in?” Wagner’s more recent discovery of nearly a dozen trumpeter swan carcasses right under AltaLink’s transmission line certainly validates his concerns expressed two years ago.

It is a well-known fact that overhead high voltage power lines have major adverse effects on bird populations, including killing birds through collision with conductors, shield wires and towers. About 174 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. alone, crashing into overhead power lines. AltaLink has a history of being very cavalier about the impacts of their overhead transmission lines on the environment, including birds. Transmission companies in Alberta have not needed to conduct formal Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of new high voltage power lines since 2008, when the Alberta Government exempted all high voltage lines from this requirement. Very limited environmental assessments are sometimes now conducted as part of transmission companies’ applications to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), but these assessments do not meet the standards of EIAs.

In 2014, Wagner also questioned some of AltaLink’s other environmental practices after he discovered AltaLink was not following normally-accepted construction practices to minimize environmental damage. He discovered heavy track vehicles tearing up the ground along the alignment of AltaLink’s recently constructed high voltage transmission line near Frank Lake. He said, “They’ve gone in during wet conditions and tore the ground up, which is bad environmental practice and should be done under frozen or dry conditions…I’m sorry, but it’s not acceptable to do that in wildlife habitat. You’ve got agricultural land and places all over you could do this and get away with it…It’s ugly; it’s got to be reclaimed.” Wagner said vegetation mats, designed to minimize damage to the ground, were not initially used during construction. Invasive plant species often establish themselves when the ground is rutted and tracked. The environmental damage was done when crews were anchoring new transmission towers.

See this link (AltaLink’s Pincher Creek line) and this link (AltaLink’s Heartland line) for other recent examples of AltaLink’s and the AUC’s poor environmental track records. AltaLink’s recently constructed overhead Pincher Creek line has already killed hundreds of birds. More information on the environmental impacts of overhead high voltage transmission lines can be found at this link, this link and this link. Buried transmission lines do not kill birds and have many other advantages over above-ground lines.

Premier Rightly Blames PCs for Spiralling Electricity Transmission Costs

•April 6, 2016 • Comments Off on Premier Rightly Blames PCs for Spiralling Electricity Transmission Costs

RETA dollar sign image (smaller)Premier Rachel Notley is blaming the former PC government for overbuilding Alberta’s electricity grid, resulting in Albertans paying (soon to be) the highest transmission rates in North America.

The Premier is absolutely correct in pointing the finger at the PC government which, in 2009, passed the Electric Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 50) against the wishes of almost everyone in Alberta except the electricity transmission industry, operator and regulator. The Act ordered the building of huge 500kV high voltage transmission lines across the province, including the Heartland Transmission Project (AltaLink), Western Alberta Transmission Line (AltaLink), Eastern Alberta Transmission Line (ATCO), Fort McMurray West Transmission Project (ATCO), and several others. Under heavy lobbying by the transmission industry and the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), the PC government legislated the building of these lines by unilaterally labelling them as “critical infrastructure” that would be built without any opportunity for the public, business community, industry or municipalities to question the need for them.

The Alberta NDP, Liberals and Wildrose fought strongly against Bill 50, as the province saw some of the largest public demonstrations ever in opposition to the building of these massive lines, but the PC government went ahead and rammed the legislation through the Legislative Assembly. There was no justifiable need, no fair competitive bidding, nor was there any accountability, for construction of the Bill 50 lines. It was well known and understood at that time that construction of these unnecessary lines would contribute to significant increases in transmission costs; unfortunately, that did not stop the legislation from being passed. It should be no surprise to anyone today, therefore, that Alberta transmission costs are going through the roof.

Sheldon Fulton, energy consultant, wrote in a letter to current Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, “Consumers that pay transmission costs have no say in where the transmission line is built, why it is built, how big it will be. The result is an over-built, underutilized transmission system. In some instances, double lines exist for projects that are no longer viable.” For example, the Heartland Transmission Project was supposed to provide coal-fired electricity for up to 13 oil sands upgrading facilities in the Industrial Heartland. Currently there is one upgrader under construction that has a questionable chance of success. The irony is, even if upgraders were built in the Industrial Heartland they were to co-generate their own electricity and would therefore not have required power from elsewhere. Furthermore, because coal-fired electricity generation will gradually be phased out in Alberta (as is the case in the rest of Canada), it is not known whether there will be any generation to actually feed the Heartland line. In other words, the Heartland transmission line will very likely become known as the line from nowhere to nowhere.

In summary, all those who opposed construction of the Bill 50 mega-high voltage transmission lines because they were not needed and because they would be too costly, can now say, “I told you so.”

See this link for many additional RETA blogs on high electricity costs in Alberta.

Alberta Government Has It Right – Coal Association Has It Wrong

•April 2, 2016 • Comments Off on Alberta Government Has It Right – Coal Association Has It Wrong

The Coal Association of Canada has decided to fight the Alberta Government’s climate change strategy to reduce carbon emissions. The Coal Association is, in effect, questioning the science and the facts that clearly indicate coal-fired electricity generation is one of Alberta’s main culprits when it comes to carbon emissions.

The report, A Costly Diagnosis, was released in 2013 by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Asthma Society of Canada, Lung Association of Alberta & NWT and the Pembina Institute. The report indicates that burning coal costs the Alberta health care system more than $300 million annually in health damages, contributes to the premature death of more than 100 Albertans every year, and causes 700 visits to emergency departments and more than 4,000 asthma attacks in Alberta annually. Dr. Alan Lockwood, a leading U.S. expert on the health effects of air pollution from burning coal, says the U.S. saves $2 trillion annually in health care costs by reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act and closing older plants. Burning coal, which appears to be a cheap source of energy, is a false economy, Lockwood says. “The health care costs that you don’t pay for on the bill from the power company far outweigh the costs at the electric meter…Wherever coal is burned, it exacts a tremendous toll on the health of people who use the power.”

It appears that the Coal Association of Canada is willing to ignore these health statistics by suggesting jobs and profits are more important.

A 2014 poll shows 76% of Albertans surveyed believe pollution produced by burning coal can harm the health of seniors, and 70% believe those emissions also pose a risk to children. 80% of those surveyed want renewable energy used to generate power instead of coal, 76% believe government should encourage businesses to use renewable energy, 74% believe coal should be phased out, and two-thirds are willing to pay higher prices for electricity generated by wind and solar power.

When Jim Prentice was federal Conservative Environment Minister, he announced that Canada must phase out its coal-fired power plants and replace them with cleaner more environmentally-friendly energy sources. The Alberta Government is now following through on that announcement by indicating that coal-fired power plants should be retired in Alberta by 2030. Ontario closed its last coal-fired power plant in 2014. Alberta continues to generate most of its electricity by burning coal; in fact, Alberta burns more coal than all other provinces put together. The current Alberta Government is proposing climate change strategies that will help bring Alberta into the 21st century. 

As a side-note, one of the reasons the coal industry remains strong in Alberta is because the previous provincial government levied one of the lowest royalty rates on coal in the world. Alberta charges the coal industry one-fifth to one-sixth of what comparable neighbouring jurisdictions do. No wonder alternative sources of electricity generation, including renewables, have a tough time competing in Alberta.

Electricity Transmission Costs Out of Control in Alberta

•March 31, 2016 • Comments Off on Electricity Transmission Costs Out of Control in Alberta

Today in the Edmonton Journal, Darcy Henton writes, “Transmission costs on Alberta power bills are climbing at unsustainable rates with increases that are unprecedented in North America, consumer groups warn.” The Alberta Consumers’ Coalition, the Direct Connect Consumers Association and the Industrial Power Consumers Association have warned in a paper submitted to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) that “transmission rates have escalated to the point where they threaten to affect development of electrical generation and the energy market” in Alberta.

David Gray, former Executive Director of the Utilities Consumer Advocate, recently said that transmission costs, which typically comprise about 15% of North American power bills, are expected to soon make up 45% of electricity bills in Alberta. Gray attributes the soaring transmission rates to the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) grossly overestimating the growth in demand for power and, together with the transmission industry,  overbuilding the transmission system. Gray said, “Where Alberta has drifted way off the track is in the distribution and transmission of power. These charges are regulated but have become extraordinarily high – even with a firm regulator overseeing the costs.”

RETA has pointed out for the past 7 years that the AESO, AUC and transmission industry in Alberta have worked in collusion to invent electricity demands that did not exist and to consequently build massively expensive transmission lines that were not needed. RETA, many other associations, businesses, industries, municipalities, and tens of thousands of Alberta homeowners have argued repeatedly at AUC hearings on the building of new transmission lines that most of these lines are unnecessary, or at minimum, are gross overbuilds. Well, the ratepayer experts have now confirmed, jointly, that Albertans will likely soon be paying the highest electricity transmission rates in North America. The chickens have finally come home to roost.

Clark's Cartoon

AltaLink Continues to Build Unnecessary and Expensive Power Lines

•February 6, 2016 • Comments Off on AltaLink Continues to Build Unnecessary and Expensive Power Lines

Electricity transmission experts in Alberta have been indicating for years that AltaLink, owned by U.S. energy behemoth Berkshire Hathaway Energy, has been proposing and building unnecessary overhead high voltage transmission lines because AltaLink does not have to pay for them – Alberta electricity consumers pay for 100% of the cost to build new transmission lines. This is one of the reasons Albertans pay among the highest electricity transmission rates in Canada.

Kevin Van Tighem points out yet another example of this absurdity in this recent article about AltaLink’s proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Transmission Project in the Pincher Creek area of southern Alberta. Van Tighem suggests one of the reasons AltaLink wants to build this expensive line is so they can link into an existing north-south line in order to sell our wind power to “Americans hungry for green power”. AltaLink has been interested for years in exporting electricity produced in Alberta to the United States, and since Berkshire Hathaway Energy bought AltaLink from scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin, this interest now appears to be one of AltaLink’s top priorities.

To make matters worse, the estimated construction cost of the Chapel Rock line has mushroomed from $150 million to more than a whopping $750 million, a five-fold increase. In the normal business world, such an increase would render the project unfeasible; however, since it is not AltaLink that will pay this exorbitant price – rather it is Alberta consumers – AltaLink doesn’t really care. This unique arrangement in Alberta is also one of the reasons costs to build new overhead high voltage lines in Alberta are far higher than anywhere else in North America. Only in Alberta can transmission line builders have their cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately, both Alberta’s electricity operator (AESO) and regulator (AUC) support exporting our electricity to the U.S., while Albertans are forced to pay for the high voltage transmission lines. The triumvirate of power – AESO, AUC, transmission industry – ensures that Albertans will continue to pay among the highest prices in Canada for electricity transmission.

As Van Tighem concludes in his article, “The smart first step in transitioning Alberta’s energy economy would be to require power companies to pay their own way. That would help replace white elephants like Chapel Rock with the smart projects we actually need.”

P.S. Even though SNC-Lavalin sold AltaLink to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy in late 2014, SNC-Lavalin will continue to build AltaLink’s high voltage transmission lines. Some in the industry argue that SNC charges inflated construction costs.

Appeal to Billionaire Owner of AltaLink – Warren Buffett

•March 4, 2015 • Comments Off on Appeal to Billionaire Owner of AltaLink – Warren Buffett

The growing opposition to AltaLink’s proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Transmission Project is now appealing directly to Warren Buffett, the U.S. billionaire owner of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which recently purchased AltaLink from scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin.

This ad recently appeared in a southwestern Alberta newspaper with the caption, “WANTED – Warren Buffett – a billionaire with a soul”. The ad appeals to the well-known philanthropist’s multitude of comments on the sharing of wealth and his history of supporting many worthy initiatives, by pointing out that the company he now owns – AltaLink – is threatening to build unsightly overhead high voltage transmission lines through one of Canada’s most iconic natural landscapes, the Crown of the Continent. The ad rightfully indicates that this part of Alberta contains natural capital that is far more valuable left in its natural state than developed from an industrial perspective – including the building of new overhead transmission lines. As an example, the financial value of responsibly growing nature-based or geographically sustainable tourism in this unique part of Canada far outweighs any financial gains that might be derived from building new unsightly high voltage transmission towers and lines.

To quote from the ad, “The future of this region is now threatened by the very qualities that drive growth. Overnight, this inspirational viewscape has become North America’s most at-risk landscape. Society isn’t managing this stunning wealth of natural capital, nor is it safeguarding and protecting this vital resource. Good decisions are predicated on good understanding, and good understanding is predicated on good information. Society, lacking solid information and driven by the prospect of instant personal gain at the expense of long term revenue, confronts overwhelming challenges in making good decisions. Money talks, but money without honor, veracity and a full-spectrum vision will continue to erode the foundation of natural capital.”

The ad concludes by asking anyone who is interested in the responsible protection and sustainable development of this spectacular area to contact David McIntyre, a Crowsnest Pass resident and scientist, one of many individuals who is passionate about ensuring that the area is not destroyed by projects such as AltaLink’s proposed new overhead transmission lines.

Considering that Warren Buffett is one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential people, and supports many valuable and philanthropic initiatives, there is a chance this direct appeal to the owner of AltaLink will gain some traction.

David McIntyre image pan 1
David McIntyre image pan 2
Photos by David McIntyre: Viewscapes from North Burmis Road that would be destroyed by AltaLink’s proposed new power lines.

Is AltaLink Honest and Trustworthy?

•March 3, 2015 • Comments Off on Is AltaLink Honest and Trustworthy?

AltaLink has been criticized in the past by many Albertans and community organizations for its biased open houses and flawed public consultation processes when it comes to dealing with residents, landowners and businesses negatively impacted by AltaLink’s new overhead transmission lines. David McIntyre, a Crowsnest Pass, Alberta resident and scientist, has recently questioned whether “AltaLink is honest and trustworthy”, and whether “its process of public engagement is just and legitimate”. Mr. McIntyre submitted the following letter to RETA, which we have printed in its entirety below. The letter clearly reflects what RETA has heard from many other Albertans during the past 7 years.

“The attached letter—it might be entitled Assessing AltaLink—presented here in shortened form to remove the name of a third party individual, was sent to AltaLink following the company’s presentation of meeting minutes that, in the opinion of participants, fell far short in presenting a meaningful rendering of actual outcomes. The meetings addressed a proposed $750-million overhead transmission line from Pincher Creek to Crowsnest Pass.

The letter to AltaLink:

I’ve read AltaLink-recorded minutes from two December (2014) meetings, and AltaLink-recorded minutes from another event, an open house in Lundbreck.

There are, as reported to me by several participants, more than a few factual errors in one of the December meeting minutes and, in all cases, the minutes present a profound and distorted—decidedly pro-AltaLink—rendering of the actual dialogue and outcomes.

I don’t see any value in trying to correct the minutes at this late date, but wish to reflect the fact that I am disturbed that AltaLink, seemingly present to record full-spectrum concerns and the essence of full-dialogue discourse, failed miserably in recording the voices and concerns of the AltaLink-threatened populace. Other participants have expressed similar concerns.

My thought: The distributed minutes create the on-paper impression that AltaLink, an unassailable authority on the land and over the people, was kind enough to listen to, and quickly squelch, all of the populace’s silly and/or ill-founded concerns.

AltaLink’s presence—it turns lives upside down—threatens life, lifestyles, and quality-of-life issues. The name AltaLink fosters fear and feelings of despair. Lifelong dreams and investments are on the chopping block.

AltaLink’s open houses and various other meetings cost residents dearly in terms of time, energy, money, unwanted travel and extreme stress. Worse, the open houses allow AltaLink, an outsider, to come in and, for a day or two, take over our community and “invite us” to come in and see how the company plans to degrade, and potentially destroy, an iconic Alberta landscape … and everything we’ve worked to achieve by making this landscape our home.

It would appear that residents participating in these exchanges—as long as the populace is trapped in this pro-AltaLink, discriminatory process of “engagement”—need to, in addition to being present, assume the role of recording the outcomes of these meetings. This would appear to be the only way to ensure that a clear and honest record exists.

Another alternative: hire a third-party to record meeting minutes.

What I’m addressing, more than the need for factual reporting, are the issues of honesty and trust.

Does anyone other than AltaLink feel that AltaLink is honest and trustworthy, or that its process of public engagement is just and legitimate?

Sincerely,

David McIntyre”

 
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