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.