Communities Fighting New Overhead ATCO Transmission Line

•September 19, 2016 • Comments Off on Communities Fighting New Overhead ATCO Transmission Line

Hundreds of individuals, landowner groups, First Nations, Metis groups and private companies are fighting to keep an overhead 500kV electricity transmission line from negatively impacting health, safety, agriculture, property values, rural viewscapes, disruption of livelihoods, and the environment (including wildlife). These and many other negative impacts of overhead power lines have been widely documented in the literature for decades.

The 500-kilometre-long Fort McMurray West Line from Genesee to Fort McMurray was approved in 2009 by the then-Progressive Conservative government which legislated the building of 6 massive high voltage power line projects without any opportunities for the public to challenge the need for them. Although the vast majority of Albertans opposed these lines, the Alberta government ignored their concerns and rammed legislation through (Electric Statutes Amendment Act 2009) to get the contentious lines built. It is well-known that the long-term plans for these lines is to export electricity to the United States at Alberta consumers’ expense; Alberta transmission companies, the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) have repeatedly tried to deny this.

ATCO and Quanta Services combined forces to establish Alberta PowerLine which was selected in 2013 (under questionable circumstances) by the AESO to design, construct, operate and manage the $1.4 billion Fort McMurray West Line. The consortium has proposed a western route and an eastern alternate route. The Edmonton Sun reports that a long list of concerned groups and individuals “have objected to some aspect of the route (ATCO’s preferred western route) in advance of AUC hearings that start Oct. 12.” One farmer, Kim Trithart, says, “I’m fighting for my life, I’m fighting for my kids…This is their future. Every time they look out from the living room window they’re going to see that power line.” Farmers and trappers are concerned their livelihoods will be negatively affected, energy companies are worried they won’t be able to work their leases, aboriginal hunters worry about negative impacts on deer and moose, homeowners are concerned about well-documented health impacts of overhead transmission line electromagnetic fields, aboriginal groups have argued that under the constitution they have not been properly consulted, landowners worry about decreased property values and homeowners do not want the ugly transmission towers and lines to ruin their rural viewscapes.

Albertans have been asking for the last 10 years why high voltage transmission lines are not buried like all of our other utilities. Burying transmission lines eliminates or significantly decreases all of the documented negative impacts of overhead lines. Many other Albertans have been arguing for years that many, if not all, of the massive high voltage lines that the PC government legislated be built are not necessary. Alberta’s transmission industry and associated regulation and operation have long been considered to be archaic when compared with other jurisdictions.

New AltaLink Power Line Will Kill Birds Near Innisfail

•August 25, 2016 • Comments Off on New AltaLink Power Line Will Kill Birds Near Innisfail

Innisfail senior, Bernice Stewart, a birding enthusiast and amateur wildlife photographer, has started a petition to save birds that will be killed by an overhead high voltage power line to be built by AltaLink. Stewart already has close to 400 signatures of individuals who agree with her that the overhead line should not be built at Cook Lake, just east of Innisfail (Innisfail Province 1Innisfail Province 2CBC News).

Ms. Stewart regularly visits Cook Lake, a permanent lake about three-quarters of a kilometre long, and has recorded and photographed many species of waterfowl, other waterbirds, songbirds and even bald eagles and swans.

The power line route which will cross Cook Lake has unfortunately already been approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) which, along with electricity transmission companies in Alberta, refuse to seriously address the bird hazard problems that overhead high voltage power lines create. It is a well-known fact that overhead power lines kill birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that close to 175 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. alone, crashing into overhead power lines. A comprehensive 2013 study estimates that up to 229.5 million birds are killed every year in Canada by transmission lines built above ground.

There are well-documented records of hundreds of birds killed through collision with overhead AltaLink high voltage lines in many locations in Alberta including Pincher Creek, Frank Lake and Big Lake, to name but a few. In one location alone near Pincher Creek, about 450 birds were killed crashing into a recently built overhead high voltage line built by AltaLink, even after the transmission company was warned by wildlife experts that the power line was being built in an area frequented by thousands of waterfowl and other birds. Eleven Trumpeter Swans were killed crashing into another recently built AltaLink overhead power line at Frank Lake, southeast of Calgary, and experts estimate 10 times as many were actually killed. AltaLink’s proposal to build the line at Frank Lake was approved by the AUC, even though the lake is an internationally-recognized Important Bird Area (IBA).

AltaLink violates federal legislation that protects migratory birds by continuing to build massive high voltage power lines above ground that regularly kill migratory birds, including “At Risk” species such as Trumpeter Swans. AltaLink continues to suggest that bird deaths can be mitigated by bird diversion devices that have questionable success. Unfortunately, AltaLink, other electricity transmission companies in Alberta and the AUC would rather continue to build high voltage power lines above ground than bury them where they cannot kill birds. As well, there are many other advantages of burying high voltage lines associated with health, safety, property value, the environment, aesthetics, agriculture, tourism, weather, fires, aircraft, power outages, pipeline corrosion, reliability, maintenance costs and transmission loss costs.

It’s not a matter of whether or not the AltaLink line to be built across Cook Lake will kill birds…rather, it’s a matter of how many birds will be killed annually. See this link and this link for more facts about above-ground transmission lines killing birds.

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”

Opposition to ATCO Electric’s New Transmission Line to Fort McMurray Continues

•March 2, 2015 • Comments Off on Opposition to ATCO Electric’s New Transmission Line to Fort McMurray Continues

Residents who recently attended an open house at the Genesee Community Hall on the new Fort McMurray West 500 kV Transmission Project voiced their concerns about the negative impacts of the overhead line (Spruce Grove Examiner).

Concerns raised included the impact the new overhead line would have on the environment (including wildlife), livestock, and homes. Others raised concerns about the need for the line and the $1.4 billion cost of the line. Some residents wondered why such a long line was needed and suggested ways be found to shorten it.

ATCO Electric, which has teamed up with Quanta Services to form Alberta PowerLine (listed as an ATCO company), will be designing, building, owning and operating the new line that will run from the Wabamun area to Fort McMurray.

Residents who have attended other open houses conducted by ATCO or who have contacted RETA directly, have also expressed concerns about the recorded property devaluation, health impacts, blighted landscape, and negative effects on agricultural operations associated with overhead high voltage transmission lines.

See this link for more information on the new transmission line to Fort McMurray, already approved by the Alberta Government in 2009, and concerns residents have about the controlled public information sessions being held by ATCO.

Power Company Must Pay Landowner Lost Property Value – Court Judgment

•February 23, 2015 • Comments Off on Power Company Must Pay Landowner Lost Property Value – Court Judgment

RETA dollar signAlthough transmission companies consistently tell landowners that overhead high voltage power lines do not decrease the value of property, the facts indicate otherwise. To add to the growing list of examples of property devaluation associated with ugly overhead high voltage transmission lines and towers, a Texas court recently awarded a $445,365 judgment against Oncor Electric Delivery Co. after a northern Texas property owner’s land lost value when an easement was taken for a high voltage power line (PR Newswire).

A dispute began in 2011 when Oncor sued Edward Clack to acquire a 33.6-acre easement on his property to build a 345 kV transmission line. Oncor had first offered Mr. Clack less than $55,000 but eventually raised the offer to almost $140,000. This then turned into a debate on how much a high voltage power line easement with its unsightly tall towers and lines reduces the value of property it crosses. A Wichita County jury recently agreed that an entire property was worthless, not just the land taken for the easement, and awarded Mr. Clack the full amount he requested plus interest and court costs.

Mr. Clack’s lawyer said, “This judgment sends a clear message: Texas landowners should understand that they have a constitutional right to collect fair damages when power lines lower the value of their land. Landowners get only one opportunity to recover, but the easements remain forever.”

Hopefully, this decision will encourage landowners everywhere to seek fair compensation when unsightly overhead transmission towers and lines are placed on their properties – not just settle for what transmission companies offer.

Calls for Undergrounding Power Lines Continue

•February 20, 2015 • Comments Off on Calls for Undergrounding Power Lines Continue

Very few people want overhead high voltage transmission lines running next to their homes, decreasing their property values, negatively affecting their health, blighting the landscape, and damaging the environment. Communities around the world continue to press for the burial of these lines to essentially eliminate the many negative impacts of overhead lines.

Councillor Arthur Walpole, who represents Llanymynech (a village that straddles the England-Wales border), will be presenting a motion to the Shropshire RETA Shropshire Council standard imageCouncil next week, calling for all members to object to National Grid’s proposed overhead 400 kilovolt lines to connect wind farms in Mid Wales to the existing power grid (Shropshire Star). Walpole’s motion reads, “The proposed overhead power lines will have a detrimental impact in Shropshire with no perceived beneficial gain for Shropshire communities and will adversely affect our local communities, our environment and our tourist economy”. He will ask the Council to “press National Grid to re-examine the justification for the overhead pylon route and to present a feasibility case for a solution using underground cables” if the power lines are deemed necessary.

Many electricity transmission providers argue that it is too expensive and/or it is not technically possible to bury high voltage transmission lines. The fact is, it has been shown repeatedly that it is both technically feasible and financially feasible to bury these lines.

Landowners Concerned about New Transmission Line from Wabamun to Fort McMurray

•February 10, 2015 • Comments Off on Landowners Concerned about New Transmission Line from Wabamun to Fort McMurray

Landowners who would be directly and negatively impacted by a new power line are concerned about the documented health, property value, environmental, visual and agricultural (crops and livestock) impacts of overhead high voltage transmission lines.

Alberta Powerline, a partnership between ATCO Electric (80%) and Quanta Services (20%), will be designing, building, owning and operating the new overhead Fort McMurray West 500 kV Transmission Project. The 500 kV single-circuit line would run from the existing Sunnybrook Substation in the Wabamun area to Fort McMurray, and would include a new Thickwood Substation in Fort McMurray and an expanded Livock Substation in the Wabasca area. Two routes have been proposed by Alberta Powerline – one through Westlock County and the other through Barrhead County.

About 40 residents turned out to an open house in Fawcett last week, and about 200 showed up at a Westlock open house last week (Westlock News). A concern by many landowners attending these open houses or who have contacted RETA directly, is the health risk associated with overhead high voltage transmission lines. An ATCO Electric staff member at the open houses tried to dismiss these health concerns by referring to Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO), both of which suggest there is inconclusive evidence that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) cause health problems. Although ATCO Electric and most other electricity transmission companies in Canada will cite the WHO or Health Canada as credible sources for information on the health risks of overhead high voltage lines, both institutions have been heavily criticized for being unduly influenced (a.k.a. lobbied) by powerful and well-financed electricity transmission companies for decades, to the point of being labelled as “corrupt” by experts who study EMFs and health problems. See this Fact Sheet on the WHO, this Fact Sheet on Health Canada, and this RETA blog for more information on the credibility of these 2 institutions.

The fact is, hundreds of well-researched medical and scientific studies indicate there are increased health risks of prolonged exposure to overhead power line electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and the corona effect. These risks would apply primarily to people living, attending school, or working near transmission lines, or who would otherwise be situated near power lines over a prolonged period. Studies have revealed many kinds of increased health risks, including: leukemia and many other cancers; Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease; heart disease and circulatory problems; nervous system disorders; retardation of fertilization, fetal resorption, miscarriages and birth defects; immune system deficiencies; depression; suicide; persistent mental disorders; male sexual dysfunction; memory impairment; decrease in visual and motor reaction time; fatigue, headaches and nausea; and behavioural problems.

Other concerns raised by landowners who have contacted RETA about the proposed new line include: property devaluation, visual impacts of unsightly overhead towers and conductors, environmental impacts, and negative effects on their agricultural operations (both crops and livestock).

Wilma Bailey, who lives west of Busby, attended the open house because the Westlock route would cut right down the middle of her property. She was very disappointed by ATCO’s open house format, and expected there would be a public meeting rather than a bunch of one-on-one meetings between ATCO representatives and landowners. Bailey thought there should have been an opportunity in an open forum to ask questions, rather than ATCO dealing with only a few people at a time. This open house format of informing landowners of new transmission projects is a common tactic used by most electricity transmission companies because they want to control the communication to landowners as opposed to having an open discussion where landowners can take turns asking questions and providing their comments, which generally results in a more collaborative, meaningful and honest exchange of views. In other words, transmission companies do not like to be in the hot seat, where they have to defend their remarks with facts and other credible data.

It’s interesting to note that the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) did not automatically award one transmission company the contract to build the proposed line to Fort McMurray, as they normally would, based on the traditional service areas of Alberta’s transmission companies. Alberta is essentially carved up by the AESO and big transmission companies into service areas – almost all of Alberta, except a few of our bigger cities, is serviced by AltaLink or ATCO Electric. AltaLink, which is now owned by U.S. behemoth Berkshire Hathaway Energy, serves the lion’s share of Alberta customers (85%). This traditional uncompetitive approach has resulted in highly inflated budgets and overruns to build transmission infrastructure in Alberta.

In September 2011, the AESO applied to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) for approval of a “competitive process” to build the Fort McMurray line, after the public had complained significantly about the “old boys” approach of the AESO simply handing over on a silver platter new transmission projects based on traditional service areas. The AESO proudly announced on February 14, 2013 that the AUC had approved AESO’s so-called “competitive process”. The only project to be awarded under this new process has been the Fort McMurray West 500 kV Transmission Project, whereas other new projects continue to be awarded under the traditional uncompetitive process. If we look closer at the awarding of the Fort McMurray line to ATCO Electric, it is questionable just how competitive it actually was. How much of a coincidence is it that the majority of the route for the Fort McMurray West line lies within ATCO Electric’s traditional service area, and the fact that ATCO – together with Quanta Services – was awarded the contract? Of the 5 companies (all partnerships) selected by the AESO to bid on the project, two partnerships submitted bids, one did not submit a bid, one withdrew their bid, and we’re not sure about the fifth. AltaLink did not even submit a bid, even though they were invited to do so. One would think that a $1.4 billion project would interest a company with as much Alberta experience as AltaLink. One can only speculate about AltaLink’s reason(s) for not bidding.

AltaLink’s New Transmission Line in Southwestern Alberta – What a Disaster

•February 10, 2015 • Comments Off on AltaLink’s New Transmission Line in Southwestern Alberta – What a Disaster

Believe it or not, this is where AltaLink wants to build a new overhead transmission line – the Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Transmission Project.

David McIntyre photo limber pine 2015

Photo caption: A limber pine, an endangered species, frames the foreground of this heritage rangeland viewscape, part of which has been formally designated by the MD of Pincher Creek. The sweeping Crown of the Continent view across the Rock Creek watershed looks westward toward the Livingstone Range. Within this Serengeti-like landscape, herds of elk traverse rare rough fescue grasslands, and pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout, a threatened species, cling to a small fraction of their former range. Thousands of golden eagles – the world’s greatest concentration – migrate through this same wind-whipped, topographically tortured land each year, and it’s known around the world to sailplane pilots as Canada’s supreme soaring site.

David McIntyre, ravensview@toughcountry.net

Box 309, Crowsnest Pass, AB  T0K 0C0  Canada

Ph: 403-564-4289

 

Livingstone Landowners Group Doesn’t Endorse AltaLink Proposals – Updated

•February 9, 2015 • Comments Off on Livingstone Landowners Group Doesn’t Endorse AltaLink Proposals – Updated

The Livingstone Landowners Group (LLG) recently issued this news release requesting that the Premier of Alberta and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) re-evaluate the need for AltaLink’s proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock high voltage transmission line in southwestern Alberta, and consider whether it should be deferred or cancelled.

The LLG does not endorse any of AltaLink’s route proposals, and has advised AltaLink that, “should the line be built, it should avoid native fescue grasslands, environmentally sensitive areas and scenic areas that give the Livingstone area and Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) their iconic beauty.” The group goes on to say, “The risk of lasting harm warrants careful consideration of whether a costly new line is even needed.”

If the line is built, the LLG says that Burying transmission lines may be a viable alternative where sensitive areas cannot be avoided…as well as where the line unduly affects residents’ views.”

Visit the LLG website or Facebook site for more details. See this February 10, 2015 letter to Premier Prentice from Crowsnest Pass resident and scientist David McIntyre.

Wildrose Candidate Says Heartland Transmission Line Unnecessary

•February 9, 2015 • Comments Off on Wildrose Candidate Says Heartland Transmission Line Unnecessary

RETA Heartland transmission project logoLinda Osinchuk, former Mayor of Strathcona County and current Wildrose candidate for the Sherwood Park constituency, says the Heartland Transmission Line, constructed by AltaLink and EPCOR, is unnecessary.

Specifically, in a February 6, 2015 ad in the Sherwood Park News, the Wildrose candidate is quoted as saying, “All we got is a glorified medicentre and unnecessary overhead 500 kV transmission lines which we are now paying for from our pockets. These lines were the cause of the closure of a viable elementary school, Colchester. The provincial government presently in power is responsible for these decisions. We deserve better!”

The overhead Heartland Transmission Line, a double-circuit 500 kV line and the tallest high voltage line ever built in Alberta, with towers up to 77 metres (253 feet) tall, was completed and energized on December 28, 2013. The line directly and negatively impacts 5,280 homes, several schools and many businesses. RETA school closure sign imageConstruction of the line forced the closure of Colchester Elementary School and it cost the Alberta Government at least $21 million to relocate about 185 students. Parents were not willing to risk the health of their children by sending them to Colchester School with the overhead 500 kV Heartland line only 140 metres from the school property.

Thousands of residents, many community organizations (including RETA), Strathcona County Council, many businesses and industries, school boards and others opposed the overhead Heartland line, arguing that it was not needed, but that if it was going to get built, it must be buried wherever it ran next to homes, schools or environmentally sensitive areas.

Unfortunately, in 2009 the Alberta Government legislated the building of the Heartland line under Bill 50, the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, which forced the line upon the public regardless of the need, along with several other high voltage lines including ATCO’s Eastern Alberta Transmission Line and AltaLink’s Western Alberta Transmission Line. AltaLink and EPCOR recommended, and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) approved, construction of the monster overhead Heartland lines in the Edmonton and Sherwood Park Greenbelts, where negative impacts were higher than along other proposed routes. The AUC approved construction of the Heartland line even though there were no customers for the dirty coal-fired electricity transmitted by the line.

We agree with Wildrose candidate Linda Osinchuk when she says the Heartland Transmission Line is unnecessary. Many have characterized the overhead Heartland line as one of the biggest mistakes the Alberta P.C. Government, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), the AUC, AltaLink and EPCOR have ever made.

For more information on the controversial Heartland line, see this link and many other RETA blogs and “Latest News” posts. This link provides facts on the many negative impacts of overhead high voltage lines. See http://lindaosinchuk.ca/ for more information on Linda Osinchuk’s campaign.

AltaLink’s New Proposed Route for Pincher Creek Area Power Line Worse than First Proposal

•February 5, 2015 • Comments Off on AltaLink’s New Proposed Route for Pincher Creek Area Power Line Worse than First Proposal

MD of Pincher Creek Councillor Terry Yagos says AltaLink’s new suggested route for their 240 kV and 500 kV Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Transmission Project is an even worse proposal than the proposed north route because it has as many if not more drawbacks.

RETA reported November 23, 2014 on AltaLink’s earlier (northern) proposed route which drew strong criticism from local environmental experts and the Livingstone Landowners Group (LLG). Local scientist David McIntyre indicated there would be major environmental impacts if this route was selected, and the LLG said they want the lines located and designed in ways that limit visual intrusions, preferably underground. Both indicated they want AltaLink to comply with the recently-released South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

A group of landowners concerned about AltaLink’s latest proposed route met February 1 and said the wildlife corridors in their area were critical and would be negatively affected. Yagos reminded the group there are several environmental easements and agreements along this proposed route and the Nature Conservancy of Canada owns land in the area. The group is also concerned about the up to 120-metre-wide right-of-way that would need to be cleared of all trees for the new transmission lines. They’re worried about visual impacts of the overhead towers and lines which would seriously compromise stunning landscape views. (Many people describe transmission towers and conductors as “unsightly” or “ugly”.)

The LLG described the proposed routes as pretty vague at this point, and was also critical of the project being considered at this particular time when the economic circumstances do not justify a project of this scope. In fact, the group doesn’t think the line is necessary at all. Bill Trafford, VP of the LLG, pointed out the change of ownership of AltaLink from scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and raised concerns about the guaranteed financial returns to the U.S. energy giant while Albertans would suffer.

It’s worth noting that Bruce Mowat, an LLG Director, said a few months ago that AltaLink would try to pit neighbour against neighbour, and try to get people fighting over different routes. He had said then that landowners should not fall for AltaLink’s tactics, but rather should work together on a common approach.

To repeat our November 23 blog on this issue, AltaLink has a long history of flawed public consultation regarding siting and construction of their electricity transmission infrastructure – see this link for many more examples. Read these RETA blogs about another AltaLink overhead transmission line in the Pincher Creek area that has killed hundreds of birds.

This blog is based, in part, on news stories in Crowsnest Pass Herald and Pincher Creek Echo.

Can World Health Organization Be Trusted On Power Line Hazards?

•February 3, 2015 • Comments Off on Can World Health Organization Be Trusted On Power Line Hazards?

Can the World Health Organization (WHO) be trusted to properly warn the world about the health risks associated with overhead high voltage transmission lines?

P1080627

Whenever individuals or community organizations raise health impacts as a serious concern associated with overhead high voltage power lines, they are told by electricity transmission companies that the WHO suggests there is no conclusive evidence of transmission line electromagnetic fields (EMFs) negatively affecting human health. Anyone who has tried to keep a new overhead transmission line from getting built next to their home, childrens’ school or place of employment, will have heard this standard response from their local transmission company.

Information that has recently been made public indicates that the WHO may not be exercising the due diligence that one would expect from this United Nations health agency.

The WHO has most recently been criticized for bungling the response to the Ebola outbreak, a sluggish performance that experts say cost thousands of lives (Edmonton Journal). “The Ebola outbreak points to the need for change,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general. She admitted that the WHO was too slow to grasp the significance of the Ebola outbreak, which is estimated to have killed more than 8,600 people, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In response to the sharp criticism over its handling of the West Africa epidemic, the WHO’s executive board recently discussed proposals that could drastically change the agency.

Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University, said, “The groundswell of dissatisfaction and lack of trust in WHO over Ebola has reached such a crescendo that unless there is fundamental reform, I think we might lose confidence in WHO for a generation. Ebola revealed all of WHO’s inherent weaknesses and the international community saw painfully what it was like to see WHO not being able to lead. That resulted in thousands of deaths that were completely avoidable. If that doesn’t light a fire for reform, I don’t know what will.”

Less than a year ago, medical writer Susan Foster wrote this shocking exposé on corruption within the WHO ranks, relating to scientific causality of harm to human health (primarily cancer) from electromagnetic radiation (EMR) – cell phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies. The article suggests the WHO and the media have been unduly influenced by the very powerful telecommunications industry to erroneously report no health concerns with EMR. This is particularly alarming, considering 14 million new cancer cases are being diagnosed worldwide every year, and the number is expected to double over the next 2 decades.

These reports on corruption and incompetence at the WHO are similar to the charge against the WHO by many credible scientists with respect to health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) such as those emanating from overhead high voltage transmission lines. For many years, the electricity transmission industry has unduly influenced the WHO not to recognize the negative health effects of overhead high voltage line EMFs. Collusion between the WHO and the electricity transmission industry triggered the following quote from Dr. Don Maisch in 2006, “Such a blatant disregard for the fundamental principles of credible science as well as WHO’s mission on protecting world health speaks of a desperation to bury independent science at all costs, even if that cost is the integrity of WHO.” (Dr. Maisch is a well-known and respected scientist who has extensively researched health effects of EMFs and EMR.)

Also in 2006, Dr. Magda Havas, a Trent University, Ontario scientist who has conducted research on health impacts of EMFs, indicated that Health Canada – which follows the WHO’s lead on this issue – “is more concerned in protecting the electric utility than it is in protecting the health of Canadians.”

It is a well-known fact that the electricity transmission industry heavily lobbies leading health agencies such as the WHO and Health Canada, just as the tobacco industry did before the cause-effect relationship was definitively determined between smoking and lung cancer.

Once the electricity transmission industry had successfully influenced the WHO many years ago to suggest there is no conclusive evidence of EMFs negatively affecting human health, is it any wonder transmission companies then cite the WHO in an attempt to placate those who raise health concerns every time a new overhead high voltage line is built?

See this link for more information on corruption within the WHO, including collusion with industry. See this link for information on the many negative health risks of overhead high voltage power lines.

Federal Approval of SunZia Transmission Line Based on “Inadequate” and “Corrupted” Process

•January 30, 2015 • Comments Off on Federal Approval of SunZia Transmission Line Based on “Inadequate” and “Corrupted” Process

RETA Sunzia Poject logoLess than a week ago, the United States Secretary of the Interior signed the federal approval for the controversial SunZia Southwest Transmission Project consisting of two 500 kV transmission lines that will cut through the San Pedro River Valley, “…destroying previously untouched wildlife habitat and disrupting primary wildlife migration corridors…” That’s what the Cascabel Working Group, Sierra Club and Friends of the Aravaipa Region said in a joint news release issued January 26, 2015.

The 160-foot-tall towers and conductors will run from central New Mexico and Arizona to the power-hungry Desert Southwest in Arizona and California, and will purportedly carry primarily wind-generated electricity. Two parallel single-circuit 500 kV lines will require rights-of-way up to a whopping 1000 feet in width for 515 miles.

The Cascabel Working Group, Sierra Club and Friends of the Aravaipa Region have been attempting to educate SunZia, governments, regulators and the public for the past 6 years about the many environmental impacts of the project. Their news release states, “The final route selected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would irreparably harm some of Arizona’s most important natural and cultural resources and irreversibly damage a unique and important ecosystem…The damage that this project would do to Arizona’s lower San Pedro Valley region cannot be justified given the questionable and unproved claims that this project is needed to promote renewable energy resources.”

The route selected by the BLM “…would impact 40 years of conservation efforts by federal and state government agencies, corporations and conservation organizations, which have spent more than $40 million to protect more than 200,000 acres of valley lands. The San Pedro River is the last undammed River in the Desert Southwest and the principal migration corridor for birds, plus it hosts the greatest mammal diversity in North America.” The route preferred by SunZia “…threads its way between the Aravaipa Canyon, Galiuro Mountains and Santa Teresa Wilderness Areas and would fragment the largest block of intact habitat in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon region.”

The organizations go on to say the BLM essentially dismissed public comment on the environmental impact and assessment statements, which is inconsistent with the National Environmental Policy Act. Their news release concludes, “We strongly object to sacrificing high-quality environmental values to such an inadequate and corrupted process and will work to correct this however we can…We cannot permit such an overt disregard for the intent of the law.”

SunZia proponents will now seek state and local siting permits in Arizona and New Mexico (Arizona Daily Star).

The Cascabel Working Group, Sierra Club and Friends of the Aravaipa Region comments about the “inadequate” and “corrupted” process to arrive at the federal approval and the “unproved claims” by SunZia proponents are far-too-common complaints by organizations, landowners, homeowners, businesses and local governments most directly and negatively impacted by new overhead transmission projects across the U.S. and Canada, many of which are unnecessary and only add to the consumer costs for electricity and to the profits of transmission corporations.

RETA theatre imageMany who have contacted RETA over the past 6 years refer to the public consultation processes of power transmission proponents and the public participation and hearing processes by regulators and state, provincial and federal governments as “THEATRE”, simply meant to suggest that the legitimate concerns of those opposed to new overhead transmission lines are considered. However, the winds are changing, as community organizations and local governments become armed with volumes of facts surrounding the overwhelming negative impacts of overhead high voltage transmission lines on the environment, property values, human healthanimal health, agriculture, safety, aircraft and aesthetics. Transmission companies can no longer pull the wool over the eyes of the public, when the facts so strongly support the many concerns by those most directly and negatively impacted.

Visit this link for earlier RETA blogs about the SunZia proposal. Check out the rest of our website for more information on the many negative impacts of overhead transmission lines, and the benefits of alternatives.

Update on Power Line Battles in the United States

•January 28, 2015 • Comments Off on Update on Power Line Battles in the United States

RETA has reported on many of the overhead transmission line battles in the United States in earlier “Latest News” articles and home page blogs, including this November 30, 2014 blog. Media reports continue almost on a daily basis regarding concerns by U.S. residents about the negative impacts of overhead power lines and towers. As well, many U.S. residents and organizations opposing overhead power lines point out the many benefits of burying them. Following are a few updates since our November 30 blog.

RETA Save the Sandhills logo imageThe Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) announced on January 26 the final route for its controversial 345 kV 220-mile-long high voltage transmission line (a.k.a. R-Project). The $361.5 million project will cross 8 counties in the Nebraska Sandhills. Landowners, many represented by the grassroots organization Save the Sandhills, say the line will destroy the fragile ecosystem of grasses and dunes, adversely affect land values and hurt ecotourism and other businesses in the region. The line will also run through one of the last strongholds for the federally endangered American burying beetle. Many landowners feel the Sandhills should be protected and respected because it’s a state treasure and a national treasure. Save the Sandhills had presented the NPPD with a petition in December with nearly 1,600 signatures opposed to the overhead line, but the NPPD essentially ignored it by stating they do not consider petitions as input to their line routing process. (So much for listening to the folks who will be most directly and negatively impacted.) Although many landowners want to continue to fight against the final route, under state law the NPPD has the power to use eminent domain (expropriation) if a landowner refuses to grant an easement for the transmission line right-of-way.

RETA Coalition to Protect Prince Willam County logo imageDominion Virginia Power plans to build a 230 kV  transmission line through Prince William County, Virginia to service a new data centre (Amazon?) in Haymarket continue to be opposed by residents, local politicians and community organizations such as the Coalition to Protect Prince William County and Fight the Power Line. Elena Schlossberg with the Coalition recently said the only acceptable option is to place the lines underground along Interstate 66. Delegate Bob Marshall and Sen. Dick Black are introducing legislation that would require similar data centres RETA Fight the Power Line logo imageor businesses in Virginia to be placed only in areas zoned for industrial use. Under their proposals, the owners of data centres outside industrial zones and more than 300 feet from an existing transmission line would have to place a new transmission line underground – and would have to pay for it. Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart said Dominion’s plans to send the power lines through residential areas amount to “no less than corporate vandalism”. Stewart took action saying, “As of Friday afternoon (Jan. 9), I signed into law the county’s acceptance of a deed of easement, a conservation easement, from the citizens of Somerset Crossing, thereby prohibiting for all time any power lines going through their neighborhood, or Greenhill, or Haymarket.” Meanwhile, Dominion Virginia Power says it’s reviewing several options for the power line, including a hybrid overhead and underground route.

James City Council, Save the James Alliance and the James River Association have recently asked the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the 2013 approval by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) of Dominion Virginia Power’s new transmission line across the James River. The claimants state that when the SCC approved the project, it did not take steps to minimize the impacts of the 500 kV transmission line, such as requiring the line to be buried under the river or installed in a less sensitive place. The claimants and their experts indicate that the approved overhead line would negatively impact significant historic and environmental resources in the area where the line would cross the James River. They contend that the towers and lines, nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty, will mar views of the significant historic and environmental resources. In spite of petitions, many submissions by experts, and repeated requests over the past 3 years by local governments, many local and state organizations and many others to have the line buried under the river, Dominion insists on building the transmission line above ground with unsightly towers and conductors spanning the historic James River.

RETA Block RICL logo 1Opposition is growing to the Rock Island Clean Line proposed by Clean Line Energy Partners LLC, that would see an overhead 500-mile-long direct current high voltage transmission line built in Iowa and Illinois. The $2 billion line, starting in Granville, Iowa and ending in Morris, Illinois,  would purportedly transport power from wind-energy-rich states in the midwest to the greater Chicago area in Illinois and further east. RETA had previously reported (Dec. 4, 2012 “Latest News”) on concerns about the line raised by Block RICL, primarily in Illinois; concerns include: the line’s impact on agricultural operations,  soil compaction and crop damage incurred by tower and line maintenance activities, increased power costs to consumers to pay for the line, and the project would deter further growth and development of wind energy in Illinois. More recently, landowners in Iowa are expressing their outrage over the proposed line. The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, representing more than 1,000 landowners across the 16-county region that would be impacted, is opposed to the use of eminent domain for the taking of their private land for the transmission line right-of-way and argue the line doesn’t serve a public good in the state because none of the electricity transported will be used in Iowa. They’re concerned about impacts of the line on agricultural operations, removal of good farm land, property devaluation, and documented health impacts. Some landowners are also upset about the inadequate compensation offered by Clean Line Energy Partners. Nearly 1,200 formal objections have been filed with the utilities board.

RETA Arkansas Citizens Against Clean Line Energy logo imageOpposition continues to grow against another one of Clean Energy Partners’ proposed projects, the Plains and Eastern Clean Line, a $2 billion 700-mile-long 600 kV line that would run from the Oklahoma panhandle through Arkansas and Tennessee and further. Since our November 30 update on this project, a number of jurisdictions have passed resolutions against construction of the line, including: Crawford, Franklin, Johnson and Pope counties and the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation. The Pope County resolution states the proposed power line would be an “enduring eyesore to Arkansas” that will affect the “natural beauty” and damage property values with “little positive effect”. The project proposal is in its 5th year and has also raised concerns about impacts on environmental and RETA Block Plains & Eastern Clean Line Oklahoma logo imagehistorical resources, health, bird movement, endangered species, erosion, and pesticide use in the line right-of-way. Many landowners are also opposed to the use of eminent domain to take their land if they refuse to negotiate easements. Those opposed to the line have also pointed out that Clean Line Partners has grossly misrepresented the employment and tax benefits of the project. Others are worried about the huge towers and lines being taken down by tornadoes which hit the area every year. Organizations including Block Plains and Eastern Clean Line, Block Plains and Eastern Clean Line: Oklahoma, Arkansas Citizens Against Clean Line Energy, and Block “Clean” Line Energy have encouraged landowners to write their elected representatives and to sign protest petitions.

RETA Neighbors United sign imageSince our November 30 update, Neighbors United Against Ameren’s Power Line continue to educate landowners about the facts surrounding the proposed overhead 100-mile-long 345 kV Mark Twain Transmission Project in Missouri from the Illinois border to the Iowa border. The grassroots community organization has been travelling across the state providing information to landowners that Ameren won’t. The primary concern appears to be use of eminent domain to take their land for the transmission line. Landowners have also raised concerns over impacts of the line on human and animal health, property values, and agricultural operations. In October, a Missouri judge ruled against an Ameren subsidiary in a legal dispute over whether it needs state permission to build the transmission line. Ameren had wanted a court to declare that it doesn’t need a certificate from the Missouri Public Service Commission to build the line or to use eminent domain to acquire property in its path.

Further to our November 30 update, American Transmission Company’s and Xcel Energy’s proposed 180-mile-long, 345 kV, $580 million Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project in Wisconsin is receiving additional opposition. Landowners and businesses are worried about the line’s impacts on health (including cancer), property values, aesthetics, the environment, wildlife, economic development, aircraft, future electricity costs and overall quality of life. Regarding health concerns, many are worried about the impacts on nearby school children, and insist that the Public Service Commission should consider the cumulative health impacts of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) as well as pollutant-laden corona ion discharge from the high voltage lines. Debra Severson, one of many landowners opposed to the overhead line, said corona ionizing particles attract pollutants that more readily stay in the lungs and interrupt the body’s production of melatonin which is essential to maintain one’s immune system. She also said EMFs have been linked to interrupting migratory patterns of avian and mammalian species. Wisconsin’s largest Amish Community, through which the line would run, oppose the power line as well, and others said it was “an insult to those who choose to live without power”. Former Onalaska Mayor Mike Giese said the city would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development if the commission RETA SOUL logoapproves the southern route, which he called “a body blow to the city of Onalaska”. Some have criticized the Public Service Commissioners’ focus on the desires of transmission companies rather than on the public that is negatively impacted by overhead transmission lines. Others have suggested no-wire (including burying the line) and green initiatives as alternatives to the overhead line proposal. Visit the websites of Citizens Energy Task Force (CETF) and Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) of Wisconsin for more information on this particular power line battle.

Almost all environmental, health, safety, property value, agriculture, economic development and aesthetic concerns expressed above can be eliminated if high voltage lines are buried like all of our other utilities. Check out the rest of this website for more information on the negative impacts of overhead lines and the benefits of burying them.

This blog is based, in part, on the following media sources: Lincoln Journal StarNorfolk Daily NewsWTOP (1)WTOP (2)Daily PressFox 28Iowa Farmer TodayCourier NewsTimes Record (1)Times Record (2)Sequoyah County TimesKTVO (1)KTVO (2)WMTVWaunakee TribuneLa Crosse Tribune (1)La Crosse Tribune (2), Washington Post and Jackson County Chronicle. Visit this RETA site for links to many of the community organizations currently opposing overhead transmission lines in the U.S.

Red Deer Residents’ High Voltage Power Line Concerns Ignored

•January 17, 2015 • Comments Off on Red Deer Residents’ High Voltage Power Line Concerns Ignored

Red Deer residents who live in the Pines neighbourhood are concerned about an upgraded high voltage transmission line that will be running right through their community (Global News).

RETA AltaLink Building imageResidents are worried about documented negative impacts of overhead high voltage lines on health and property values. They have even offered to pay AltaLink to divert the line around their neighbourhood. The residents feel their concerns are being ignored by AltaLink and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), both of which agree the new upgraded transmission line should be built through the Pines community. AltaLink and the AUC want the new upgraded line to be built exactly where the older less obtrusive transmission line was built, regardless of the residents’ concerns.

AltaLink and the AUC have a history of ignoring health, property value, safety, environmental, economic and  aesthetic concerns of residents, businesses and municipal governments when it comes to siting high voltage power lines. The decision by AltaLink and the AUC to run this particular upgraded line through the Pines community is certainly another example of ignoring legitimate concerns of those most directly and negatively impacted. What’s especially interesting about this case is that the residents have offered to pay AltaLink to divert the upgraded line around their neighbourhood.

RETA AUC logoMany in Alberta have characterized the public consultation process conducted by transmission companies and the public hearing process conducted by the AUC as “theatre”,  simply meant to give the impression that concerns of residents, businesses and municipal governments are considered when high voltage transmission lines are built.

RETA continues to advocate for the burying of high voltage power lines to eliminate the many negative impacts of overhead lines. It is a well-known fact that burying high voltage transmission lines is both technically and financially feasible, based on information from international underground cable experts.

Overhead Power Line Outages Impact Millions

•January 15, 2015 • Comments Off on Overhead Power Line Outages Impact Millions

RETA power outage image 2015Unplanned power outages often affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of electricity customers on a daily basis around the world. Overhead power lines are negatively affected by inclement weather, birds, rodents, aircraft and hot air balloons, vehicles crashing into poles and towers, farm machinery, solar storms, etc. Power outages are very costly in terms of power line infrastructure repair, lost productivity, spoiled food and other damages; and there have been deaths attributed to major outages.

During the past 2 weeks, there have been millions of electricity customers around the world who have been negatively impacted by overhead power line outages attributed to stormy weather. Following are a few of these.

In Canada, heavy snowfall, freezing rain, extreme cold or ice build up on power lines and trees downed power lines January 4-5, affecting over 14,000 customers in British Columbia; outages forced many schools to close. Cold weather and the weight of hoar frost on trees and power lines caused power outages December 30 in 46 Saskatchewan communities; some were without power for more than 30 hours. About 12,000 customers were without power January 3-4 in parts of Manitoba due to ice build up and high winds bringing down power lines. Freezing rain brought down power lines in Ottawa, Ontario on January 4, causing a number of outages. More than 155,000 customers were without power January 3-4 in Quebec, primarily in Montreal and area, after freezing rain, heavy snowfall and high winds brought down power lines. Another 278,000 Hydro Quebec customers were without power January 13 when cold weather caused the breakdown of an overhead transmission line. La Poile residents in Newfoundland were without power for 3 days last week after stormy weather toppled power lines.

In the United States, overhead power lines were crippled by winter weather in 32 states and in Washington D.C. Rain and high winds knocked down power lines in Los Angeles, California January 8-9, leaving about 2,300 customers without power in Silver Lake and another 2,200 in Malibu. Torrential rain on January 4 left 5,000 customers without power in western Washington. On January 7, about 1,250 customers in Iowa were without power after extremely cold weather affected overhead wires. High winds brought down power lines in the Omaha metro area, Nebraska, affecting about 2,000 customers. Cold weather caused power line outages for 1,700 customers on January 7 and thousands on January 11 in parts of Indiana. Over 300 customers were without power January 4-5 in Pennsylvania due to strong winds. About 3,000 customers had no power January 4-5 in Lapeer County, Michigan. In St. Louis, Missouri, about 800 were without power on January 5. Cold temperatures on January 4 in Breckenridge, Minnesota left customers without power. High winds in southern Oklahoma resulted in power outages. Strong winds caused numerous outages in parts of Colorado on January 5, and heavy snow brought down trees and power lines on January 13, affecting 13,000 customers in La Plata and Archuleta counties in Colorado. About 800 were without power in Dodge City, Kansas due to strong winds and cold temperatures affecting power lines.

Stormy weather brought outages to almost 6,000 customers in at least 5 Ohio counties January 3-5. Close to 2,000 customers had no power in Kentucky on January 7 due to overhead equipment infrastructure failure. Cold weather took out power for about 2,600 customers in Tennessee and about 250 in Mississippi January 7-8; power outages closed several schools in Jackson, Mississippi. About 6,500 customers had no power in northeast Arkansas during the recent cold spell. High winds, heavy rain and lightning in northwest Louisiana left 15,000 customers with no power on January 3. Cold weather knocked out power to at least 7,600 customers in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana on January 8; several New Orleans schools had to close due to the outages. About 3,400 customers had no power in Caddo Parish, Louisiana on January 11. A tornado on January 4 caused power outages in Crenshaw County, Alabama; then on January 7, poor weather knocked out power to 8,500 customers in east Alabama. About 2,500 customers had no power in metro Atlanta, Georgia January 3-4  after strong winds took down lines.

Freezing rain and extreme temperatures in parts of Texas took out power to more than 26,000 customers January 2-3. About 1,200 customers lost power in Penobscot County, Maine on January 9. Strong winds January 4-5 knocked out power to 3,600 customers in Vermont. There were significant power outages in parts of Delaware on January 12 brought on by an icy storm. Gusting winds downed power lines in New Hampshire, leaving about 1,000 customers without power. High winds brought down trees and power lines in parts of New York on January 4, knocking out power to thousands of customers. About 3,300 customers had no power on January 7 in Maplewood, New Jersey. Strong winds and freezing temperatures took out power to about 7,000 customers in North Carolina on January 7; then thousands had no power in the same state on January 14 due to rain and cold weather. In South Carolina, 2,200 customers had no power on January 7 and another 1,700 customers had their power knocked out on January 8. Thousands were left without power in Virginia after strong winds brought down power lines January 4-9; and then, over 10,000 customers had no power due to freezing rain on the Virginia Peninsula on January 14. Thousands had no power in Connecticut January 5-7 due to strong winds downing trees and power lines; at one point, about 40% of customers in Ledyard were without power.

About 6,100 customers in the Dupont Circle area of Washington D.C. had their power knocked out on January 6. Stormy weather in Hawaii on January 2 took out power to 45,000 customers on the Big Island, 5,000 customers on Maui, and about 1,500 customers on Oahu. Some customers on the Big Island and Maui were without water due to the power outages.

Following are a few weather-induced power outages reported elsewhere in the world during the past 2 weeks. Hurricane-force winds, sleet, snow and driving rain knocked out power to over 120,000 customers in parts of Scotland last week; hundreds were without power for 4 days. Thousands of customers were without power January 9-12 in Ireland as the country was hit with snow and lightning storms. This week and last week, tens of thousands of customers in Finland had no power after heavy snowfall took down power lines; several thousand customers had their power taken out twice.  Stormy weather in west Norway January 9-10 left 168,000 customers without power. Cold stormy weather, including snow, brought down transmission towers and lines, affecting thousands of customers in Macedonia on January 11. High winds and icy conditions, including snow, left tens of thousands of customers without power in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Greece January 6-7; at least 19,000 had no power in Israel. Heavy rains on the island of Java, Indonesia on January 13 left thousands without any power. Tens of thousands of customers had no power in Victoria and South Australia in Australia last week due to stormy weather, including about 123,000 lightning strikes. Torrential rains in Australia’s Northern Territory this week brought down power lines, causing outages to many more.

In addition to the above-mentioned weather-induced power outages, there were tens of thousands without power when overhead power lines were compromised during the past 2 weeks by vehicles hitting poles and other power line infrastructure, squirrels shorting out circuits, fires burning power poles,  sailboats hitting overhead lines and an earthquake taking down power lines. There were many other examples of the vulnerability of above-ground electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure.

Many residents, businesses and governments affected by these and other outages are calling for power lines to be buried to avoid the significant costs, safety hazards, lost productivity and inconveniences associated with overhead power line outages.

The above data were obtained from over 200 media sources. (Power outages caused by overloaded circuits brought on by increased customer demand during cold weather are not included in this blog.) See this link for other RETA blogs on overhead power line outages, and the growing call for lines to be buried.

“Save the Ozarks” Wins Power Line Battle Against SWEPCO

•January 7, 2015 • Comments Off on “Save the Ozarks” Wins Power Line Battle Against SWEPCO

Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) withdrew its application on December 30, 2014 to build their controversial overhead 345kV transmission line through Carroll County and Benton County, Arkansas (Carroll County News).

RETA Save the Ozarks logo image

 

RETA previously reported (July 24, 2013 Latest News) that residents, local governments and business groups opposed to this line, including the well-organized group Save the Ozarks (STO), had cited negative environmental, recreational, property value, health, economic (e.g., tourism), visual and quality of life impacts of the proposed overhead line. As well, Save the Ozarks and others had argued that the new line was not necessary, considering the significantly lower electricity demand than forecasted by SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool.

RETA Save the Ozarks logo 2 imageIt appears that the facts presented by Save the Ozarks and others finally convinced SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool that the new line was not really necessary after all. It’s very likely that the project would have moved forward had Save the Ozarks not objected to it from the outset. “There’s no question that we stopped it”, said STO Director Pat Costner. “That’s inarguable.”

The successful conclusion to this particular battle is powerful encouragement to the many other battles against overhead high voltage transmission lines being fought by communities across North America. There are so many negative impacts of above-ground transmission lines; burying these lines essentially eliminates the negative impacts. In many other cases, new high voltage lines being proposed by transmission companies and electricity operators are not even necessary but, rather, are simply revenue-generating schemes by the highly profitable transmission industry.

Buried Transmission Lines Would Benefit Economy and Environment

•January 2, 2015 • Comments Off on Buried Transmission Lines Would Benefit Economy and Environment

“Burying the high-voltage power lines on the Providence-East Providence waterfront” would “greatly benefit both the economy and the environment of Rhode Island for many years to come – in fact, for many decades and generations”. That’s what Patrick Lynch, who was Rhode Island’s Attorney General from 2003 to 2011, recently wrote in this Providence Journal article.

Lynch backed up his call for burying the ugly overhead lines by indicating that underground lines would: boost economic development on the waterfront, encourage tourism, raise property tax income for the cities, provide jobs, protect the lines from storms and floods, improve public health and safety, enhance waterfront public spaces, and supplant antiquated towers. He pointed out that other mid-size cities such as Chattanooga, Louisville and San Antonio have buried unsightly shoreline power lines and transformed industrial backwaters into marquee waterfront destinations.

Lynch indicated that National Grid’s latest estimate to bury these lines is “preposterous”. Based on RETA’s research, it is a well known fact that most transmission companies grossly overestimate the costs to bury high voltage transmission lines because they do not want to bury them for several reasons, including the profits they generate from overhead lines that require constant maintenance and repair (customers are charged for these costs plus added high administration charges). The fact is, when capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs are combined over the life of a line, underground lines can be less expensive than above-ground lines. And, when property devaluation, lost economic opportunities and added health costs associated with overhead lines are added in, buried lines are cheaper than overhead lines. In summary and based on information from experts, underground transmission lines are both technically and financially feasible.

RETA agrees with Patrick Lynch’s sound arguments for burying high voltage transmission lines, and encourages Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza to prioritize the burying of these lines.

High Voltage Pylons Would Bring End to Horse Breeding and Training

•December 20, 2014 • Comments Off on High Voltage Pylons Would Bring End to Horse Breeding and Training

RETA Eirgrid logoHigh voltage pylons (towers) and wind turbines are the biggest threats to Irish bloodstock in the history of the industry and will make thousands of acres of prime horse-breeding land “unfit for purpose”. That’s what Annemarie O’Brien, wife of champion trainer Aidan O’Brien recently said about EirGrid’s controversial proposed GridWest project that would bring pylons and overhead high voltage power lines into the heartland of the Irish bloodstock industry (Independent).

Balldoyle in Tipperary, where Aidan O’Brien has trained the winners of 5 Epsom Derbys, 11 Irish Derbys and numerous other classics, is the training arm of the Coolmore syndicate headed up by billionaire John Magnier. Critics of the above-ground GridWest project are pleased the wealthy bloodstock syndicate has joined the anti-pylon and wind farm lobby.

Ms. O’Brien recently pointed out the “huge financial impact on the industry” which directly employs more than 14,000 people, as well as a supply chain of ancillary goods and services including farmers, feed merchants, vets, farriers and other vital rural jobs. She added, “There are many risks associated with wind farms and pylons. Low flying helicopters checking the lines, corona and low frequency noise, magnetic fields and unrestricted access to crews for the repair and maintenance of turbines and pylons would pose huge disease control issues for stud owners.” O’Brien recently wrote in a local newspaper, “The scale of the threat to heartland Irish industries such as bloodstock, tourism and agriculture and to all electricity bill payers from yet more costly, subsidized wind farms, and pylon blight…is only just revealing itself.”

O’Brien wrote that wind turbines and overhead high voltage power lines are simply incompatible with the breeding and training of thoroughbred racehorses which are sensitive animals that would perceive such infrastructure as danger, thereby leading to unwanted flight reaction.

Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness is chairing an independent panel that is examining the feasibility of placing the EirGrid transmission lines underground, which would essentially eliminate the negative impacts of overhead lines and pylons.

More Widespread Power Outages in Alberta Due to Overhead Lines

•December 16, 2014 • Comments Off on More Widespread Power Outages in Alberta Due to Overhead Lines

Sagging and broken power lines caused by heavy frost resulted in widespread power outages yesterday and today in Drumheller, Three Hills, Hanna, Oyen, Consort, Lloydminster, Vermilion, Vegreville, St. Paul, Bonnyville and surrounding rural areas (Drumheller online).

ATCO Electric could not say when the power would be back on. ATCO informed customers they should always assume that power lines are energized and to keep back a minimum of 10 metres from the sagging or downed wires or anything in contact with the wires.

Tens of thousands of customers in British Columbia and New Brunswick were without power last week as stormy weather pounded the west and east coast.

As we experience more and more power outages caused by inclement weather damaging overhead electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure, customers are wondering why these lines are not buried like all of our other utilities. Underground power lines are safer because they are not susceptible to weather damage, and can therefore save millions of dollars in repairs, other damages and lost productivity.

Overhead Power Lines and Health

•December 15, 2014 • Comments Off on Overhead Power Lines and Health

RETA Health hazard imageThere are still some people, including those who work for electricity regulators and transmission companies, who believe that overhead high voltage power lines do not negatively affect human health. In addition to the hundreds of references provided at this website and elsewhere which show conclusive links and strong causal correlations between high voltage power line electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and dozens of major diseases and other health problems, we thought we would share the quotes of two experts in this area of research. The quotes are taken from ElectromagneticHealth.org .

Dr. Martin Blank; Associate Professor, Dep’t. Physiology & Cellular Biophysics, Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons:

“Cells in the body react to EMFs as potentially harmful, just like to other environmental toxins, including heavy metals and toxic chemicals. The DNA in living cells recognizes electromagnetic fields at very low levels of exposure; and produces a biochemical response. The scientific evidence tells us that our safety standards are inadequate, and that we must protect ourselves from the exposure to EMFs due to power lines, cell phones and the like, or risk the known consequences. The science is very strong and we should sit up and pay attention.”

Dr. Samuel Milham; medical epidemiologist in occupational epidemiology; one of the first scientists to report increased leukemia and other cancers in electrical workers:

“Very recently, new research is suggesting that nearly all the human plagues which emerged in the twentieth century, like common acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children, female breast cancer, malignant melanoma and asthma, can be tied to some facet of our use of electricity. There is an urgent need for governments and individuals to take steps to minimize community and personal EMF exposure.”

Burying high voltage transmission lines essentially eliminates the negative health effects of long-term exposure to EMFs.

Massive Power Outages in Canada and UK Due to Overhead Power Lines

•December 11, 2014 • Comments Off on Massive Power Outages in Canada and UK Due to Overhead Power Lines

Tuesday morning 35,000 BC Hydro customers were without power, including about 24,000 in the Lower Mainland and along the Sunshine Coast, as stormy weather pounded the west coast of British Columbia. Courtenay on Vancouver Island declared a state of emergency because of flooding, as the city received 200 mm of rain in a 36-hour period. Delta, part of Metro Vancouver, declared a state of emergency because of storm surges.

A nor’easter hammered New Brunswick on Wednesday with snow, freezing rain and ice pellets, triggering storm and flood warnings. Power outages were reported for about 11,000 NB Power customers. NB Power urged people to stay away from downed lines, as they could be energized and contact could be fatal.

Stormy weather with winds up to 144 mph battered the UK yesterday and today. Although power has been restored to 27,000 homes, thousands remained without power this morning in the Scottish Highlands, Shetland and Western Isles. Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution said it had 500 engineers working to restore power supplies, although repairs are taking longer due to the nature and complexity of the damage to the network in some areas.

These and other power outages would not have occurred if electricity transmission and distribution lines were buried like all of our other utilities. Downed power lines cost millions of dollars in repairs, lost productivity and other damages; and are serious safety hazards which can cause deaths and injuries. Visit this link for more information on overhead lines and power outages.

This blog is based, in part, on: News 1130CBC News 1CBC News 2 and Press Association.

Another High Voltage Line in U.S. to be Buried

•December 10, 2014 • Comments Off on Another High Voltage Line in U.S. to be Buried

RETA Bury The Line T-shirt model photoTDI New England recently filed an application to build its proposed New England Clean Power Link transmission project (Vermontbiz). As TDI New England’s website indicates, “The…line…will be…completely buried to minimize impacts to local communities and the environment”.

The 154-mile-long direct current high voltage line would bring electricity from Quebec to Vermont and the New England marketplace. About 97.3 miles of the proposed line would be buried under Lake Champlain, and about 56.7 miles would be buried along existing town and state road and railroad rights-of-way or on land owned by TDI New England.

TDI New England points out that, when compared to above-ground high voltage transmission lines, the proposed underground and underwater New England Clean Power Link would: have minimal environmental impacts, protect the area’s natural resources, respect Vermont’s natural beauty, not negatively impact local communities, and the buried line would not be vulnerable to natural disasters.

The same electricity transmission company has been working to get approval of its proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) transmission project that would run from Quebec to New York City. This line would also be buried under Lake Champlain and along existing public road and railway rights-of-way. Visit this link for more information on the proposed CHPE underground and underwater transmission project.

It is interesting that TDI New England in the U.S. finds it economically and technically feasible to build underwater and underground high voltage transmission lines, while so many other transmission companies in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere around the world erroneously suggest it is not possible to bury high voltage lines and/or it is too expensive. Based on extensive research by RETA, it is indeed economically and technically feasible to bury DC and AC high voltage transmission lines. In fact, when you combine the capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs over the life of a line, buried lines can be less expensive than overhead lines. There are many advantages to burying high voltage lines including: safety, health, property value, environmental, and aesthetic (including visual).

It’s time all new high voltage transmission lines get buried.

Update on SNC-Lavalin Corruption Scandals

•December 7, 2014 • Comments Off on Update on SNC-Lavalin Corruption Scandals

Since our September 11, 2014 update on scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec-based engineering giant has sold AltaLink to U.S. energy behemoth Berkshire Hathaway Energy, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. Part of the sale deal ensures that SNC will continue to manage construction of, and build, AltaLink’s electricity transmission infrastructure in Alberta. So what’s the latest on SNC’s Canadian and international corruption scandals?

Arthur Porter’s wife, Pamela Mattock Porter, will formally plead guilty to money laundering and sentencing on December 18, 2014. Arthur Porter was director of the Montreal superhospital (MUHC) when SNC-Lavalin allegedly gave millions of dollars to Porter in order to secure the lucrative hospital construction contract. Mattock Porter said she knew the money deposited in a Bahamian holding company under her name was illegal. Arthur Porter, who is currently in a Panamanian prison, continues to deny he ever received this money.

Riadh Ben Aissa, a former senior SNC-Lavalin VP who had been held for some time in a Swiss prison, was recently granted bail in Canada on fraud-related charges in connection with the $1.3 billion Montreal superhospital corruption scandal. Ben Aissa has to wear an electronic bracelet pending his next court appearance. He faces 16 charges in connection with the alleged $22.5 million bribe paid by SNC-Lavalin to secure the hospital construction contract. Ben Aissa arrived in Montreal in October after his extradition from Switzerland where he had accepted a deal that sentenced him to the 29 months he had already served in jail on fraud-related charges in relation to SNC’s business dealings with the tyrannous Gadhafi regime in Libya. Ben Aissa acknowledged in court that he bribed Saadi Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, so SNC could win Libyan contracts. He also admitted to pocketing commissions.

Former SNC Vice-President Normand Morin, who was appointed to Montreal’s port authority, was allowed to remain on the public payroll for months, despite known links to an illegal fundraising scheme. Morin has confirmed to police that his unofficial job was to arrange and monitor political financing in Quebec. The Charbonneau Commission – a public inquiry into widespread corruption within Quebec’s construction industry – had been told earlier by SNC VP Pierre Cadotte that SNC illegally contributed more than $1 million in donations to Quebec’s political parties between 1998 and 2010. The Prime Minister’s Office recently announced that Morin is no longer a member of the port authority board.

New portions of a sealed police affidavit recently released by a Quebec court indicate that former SNC-Lavalin VP Pierre Anctil also had the unofficial responsibility of arranging and monitoring illegal political financing. Both Anctil and Morin told police that former SNC CEO Jacques Lamarre had given them this responsibility, and that they were in contact with businessman and Liberal bag man Marc Bibeau to arrange for donations to the Quebec Liberals. SNC employees acted as straw man donors, Morin and Anctil confirmed, and SNC reimbursed them.

Quebec’s anti-corruption police unit is investigating the possibility of former Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s involvement in a financing campaign with SNC-Lavalin. The allegations suggest that in 2002 Charest approached then-SNC-Lavalin chairperson Guy Saint-Pierre in an attempt to collect $50,000 from SNC’s employees. Before joining SNC, Saint-Pierre was a Liberal Party member and minister during the mid-1970s. Charest has since denied the allegations.

Bob Mackin has recently written an excellent article in Straight.com on the extent to which SNC-Lavalin continues to be awarded many construction and other contracts in British Columbia, despite “cascading headlines alleging international bribery and corruption”. The article provides a history of some of the multitude of international allegations of bribery, fraud and money laundering against SNC and many of its executive members, but points out that SNC continues to be very successful winning contracts awarded by B.C.’s Liberal government. SNC has made substantial political donations to the B.C. Liberal party. The article cites Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who said the following at a City Council meeting earlier this year, “SNC-Lavalin has done more to bring Canadian engineering into disrepute than any company has ever had the misfortune to do in the history of Canada. This is one of the few Canadian companies who could attain the high goal of being banned for 10 years by the World Bank for corruption. This is a company that is up to its earlobes in corruption in Montreal.”  

Of the 250 global companies blacklisted by the World Bank under its new fraud and corruption policy, 117 are from Canada, and a whopping 115 of those are SNC-Lavalin or its affiliates, including AltaLink Management Ltd. and AltaLink Investment Management Ltd. in Alberta. In other words, 46% of all the companies in the entire world that have been placed on the World Bank’s no-bid list under its fraud and corruption policy are SNC-Lavalin or its affiliates. Many high-profile Canadians have called this one of the worst national embarrassments in our history.

About 200 people who own businesses and commercial property on Vancouver’s Cambie Street are suing SNC-Lavalin and others, arguing that SNC chose a cheaper construction method, known as cut-and-cover, over a tunnel-boring method, and as a result business and property owners suffered significant financial losses. The plaintiffs argue the cut-and-cover method saved the project about $35 million, in a $2 billion project. One of the business owners said, “We’re looking for compensation. It’s really unfair a private company like SNC-Lavalin can profit by harming over 200 businesses.”

An access to information request filed by an Ottawa researcher recently revealed that RCMP spent $1.27 million of taxpayer funds investigating SNC-Lavalin in the last fiscal year on allegations of bribery and fraud in procuring contracts in Libya, Tunisia and Bangladesh. The RCMP initiated their investigations into SNC-Lavalin and its affiliates in April 2012, when officers raided SNC’s Montreal headquarters. Since that time, many former SNC executives have been charged and arrested.

A report into one of Canada’s signature development projects in Afghanistan says dozens of irrigation canals in Kandahar, once clogged with silt, are now brimming with water and helping to improve the livelihoods of local farmers. But the project was not without its problems. Initially, SNC-Lavalin was contracted to do the work, but 3 years into the project had only fixed 8 secondary canals. In order to get the work finished on budget and on time, the Canadian government ended up relying on the Central Asian Development Group. The report says there were other problems with SNC-Lavalin. Afghan officials disputed SNC’s claims of setting up training and crop diversification programs, and SNC also failed to take measurements at the canal that would have helped judge the effectiveness of the improvements. An irrigation system SNC had set up at Tarnak Farms, toured by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2011, was judged to be neither practical for small Afghan farms nor efficient in the extremely dry Afghan climate. There were also allegations of SNC-Lavalin spending millions on security for the project, with funds given to a controversial private security firm with ties to former Afghan President Hamid Karzal.

Quebec’s Order of Engineers has recently filed disciplinary complaints against 2 SNC-Lavalin engineers in connection with the collapse of the Ville Marie Expressway Tunnel in Montreal more than 3 years ago. The 2 engineers were involved with preparation of the plans and specifications for repair work on the walls in the tunnel. On July 31, 2011, a 20m-by-20m section above where the repairs had been made came crashing down onto the roadway below. Fortunately, there were no cars passing underneath at the time. The Order of Engineers has complained the 2 SNC engineers violated the Professional Code and Code of Ethics of Engineers.

The Canadian and international corruption scandals, coupled with questionable contract performance by SNC-Lavalin, appear to be catching up with the engineering giant. In addition to the 10-year World Bank ban, some governments around the world, including our own federal government, are not awarding new contracts to, or renewing contracts with, SNC-Lavalin. One recent example – the Canadian federal government has chosen to replace embattled SNC as its property manager. Public Works and Government Services Canada announced it had awarded contracts worth $9.6 billion to Brookfield Johnson Controls Canada to manage about 3,800 federal government buildings, facilities and properties across the country. The contracts are for an initial 8-year period, with options to extend the deal, rendering its total value at about $22.8 billion. In response to decreasing contracts, SNC-Lavalin recently announced a restructuring plan that would result in about 4,000 layoffs, or about 9% of its global workforce (about 1,000 layoffs in Canada).

This blog is based, in part, on news coverage by: Montreal Gazette 1CTV News Straight.comCBC News 1Montreal Gazette 2CBC News 2Canadian PressGlobe and MailMontreal Gazette 3Montreal Gazette 4Calgary Sun, and Montreal Gazette 5. For more information on SNC-Lavalin’s corruption scandals, some of which have been ongoing for the past 3 years, see this link.

Power Line Battles on the Rise in U.S.

•November 30, 2014 • Comments Off on Power Line Battles on the Rise in U.S.

There are reports in the media almost every day about communities in the U.S. fighting electricity transmission companies’ plans to build new overhead high voltage power lines. As communities become more aware of the many negative impacts of overhead power lines on property values, the environment, health, safety, aesthetics and economic development, they are challenging transmission companies, electricity transmission regulators and their political representatives to consider more innovative technologies, like undergrounding, that eliminate or minimize these negative impacts. Following are brief summaries for just a few of the transmission line battles in the U.S.

Ameren proposes to build the overhead 100-mile-long 345kV Mark Twain Transmission Project in Missouri from the Illinois border to the Iowa border. The plan also includes a new substation near Kirksville. Residents along the entire length of the proposed line are opposing it over concerns about negative impacts on human and animal health, agriculture and property values. Some parents are particularly concerned about health effects on their children. Residents are also concerned about the taking of land by eminent domain (expropriation). Commercial bee farms worry about the impacts of overhead transmission line electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on their bees’ ability to travel between hives and food sources. An Amish community is worried about Ameren’s plans to run the new power line right through the centre of their community where their school and cemetery are located. Adair County Commissioners have drafted a resolution opposing the line, citing serious health hazards to humans and animals that live near the lines. They also say Adair County citizens will not benefit from the new line. Kirksville City Council has signed a letter opposing the project, expressing concerns about Ameren’s use of eminent domain to override private property rights. Similar resolutions and letters are expected from other municipal governments. Five families, who are members of Neighbors United Against Ameren’s Power Line, are intervening in a lawsuit, claiming that Ameren is trying to use eminent domain authority without involving property owners.

Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston is proposing to build a 750-mile-long 765kV overhead high voltage direct current (HVDC) line originating near Dodge City, Kansas and delivering power to Missouri, Illinois and surrounding states. Some 530 property owners would be directly and negatively affected in Missouri alone. The staff of the Missouri Public Service Commission have joined the opposition to the line, saying, based on their assessment, the power line would not be in the public interest for Missourians. The line could end up adding to the cost of power in Missouri. One of the main concerns of homeowners and landowners is the use of eminent domain to force the lines onto their properties, and they are against the misuse of power, influence and money to override their private property rights. They’re concerned about the massive transmission line changing their agricultural lifestyle. They have approached their political representatives to help protect their property rights and overall quality of life.

Residents in Arkansas, including outgoing Republican State Representative John Hutchison, have concerns about another one of Clean Energy Partners’ proposed HVDC lines known as the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project which would run from the Oklahoma Panhandle and supply power to mid-south and south-eastern states. The $2 billion 700-mile-long overhead line would require a 200-foot-wide right-of-way and would have towers up to 200 feet tall. Some of the concerns raised by residents include: use of federal eminent domain to take private land, clear-cutting trees for the wide right-of-way, erosion and compromised water quality, killing of birds including important game species, other environmental impacts, negative visual impacts, property devaluation, archaeological impacts, and harm to humans. Some residents have proposed the line be buried in existing transportation and utility corridors because underground lines have significant environmental benefits; reduce tree clear-cutting; reduce visual impacts; are safer because they’re not affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, and other high wind or ice storms; do not kill millions of birds annually through collision; do not lower property values; do not negatively affect tourism; and the buried cable rights-of-way can be used safely for hiking trails and bike pathways.

Opposition continues against American Transmission Co.’s and Xcel Energy’s proposed overhead 345kV Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project from north of La Crosse to northern Dane County, Wisconsin. In addition to past concerns raised by Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) and Citizens Energy Task Force (CETF) about negative impacts of the proposed line on the economy, environment, property values and livestock, the two organizations have recently said the environmental impact statement filed with Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission fails to analyze who profits from the line and the economic and environmental costs. They also question the line’s impact on tourism because overhead transmission lines and towers are ugly.

American Transmission Company and ITC Midwest LLC are proposing the 125-mile-long overhead 345kV Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project from Dane County, Wisconsin to Dubuque County, Iowa. Southwest Wisconsin residents are worried about: loss of property values, negative impacts on scenic view, limits on recreational use, ecological changes, adverse effects on local and state tourism, and threats to the health of those who live in close proximity to the overhead line EMFs. They refer to medical studies that show health risks for childhood leukemia and neurological diseases. Residents also indicate the line is simply not needed.

For the past two years, New York residents and community coalitions have been fighting Governor Cuomo’s plans to significantly expand the state’s electricity transmission infrastructure. Plans call for 153 miles of new overhead high voltage lines through the historic and environmentally-rich Hudson River Valley. More than 80 municipalities in 18 counties would be negatively affected, including 24 municipalities in the Hudson Valley. Communities have articulated the following concerns and positions: lines would negatively impact property values; additional building projects would be halted;  transmission lines should be buried;  taller towers would negatively affect the peaceful countryside viewscape; opposed to taking of land by eminent domain;  new required transmission capacity should be built within existing corridors; review need for new power lines based on current electricity supply and demand data; support locally-generated renewable power, other types of distributed generation and conservation to reduce need for new transmission capacity; known health risks of overhead high voltage lines; loss of local tourism; and negative effects on agriculture. Based on extensive research, Dr. Gidon Eshel of Bard College has recently concluded there is no need for these new lines between now and 2040.

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy is proposing the overhead 130-mile-long 345kV Brazos Valley Connection transmission line that would run from Harris County to Grimes County, Texas. Residents that would be directly and negatively impacted by the line are worried about decreased property values, negative visual and other aesthetic impacts, land use impacts, wildlife habitat loss and negative impacts on migratory birds. For example, the new line would negatively affect birds in the Katy Prairie Conservancy, a 20,000-acre protected area. The Conservancy lies along the Central Flyway, hosts over 300 species of migratory bird species, and has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area. Residents also suggest the need for the new line has been grossly overestimated.

The Ontario City Council recently voted unanimously to support the fight to underground part of the 250-mile-long $2.1 billion 500kV Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project which would run above-ground from Kern County to Los Angeles County, California. Southern California communities have been fighting Southern California Edison (SCE) for up to 7 years to get parts of this massive transmission line buried. Ontario residents are concerned about adverse health effects, towers or lines falling over, devalued properties, noise, and limits to economic development if the line is built above ground. Hope For The Hills and the City of Chino Hills were successful in July 2013, following a 6-year battle, in getting SCE to bury 3.5 miles of the same line through Chino Hills, and Ontario wants equal treatment.

Concerns by U.S. residents about construction of new high voltage transmission lines could be eliminated or significantly minimized if these lines were buried like all of our other utilities.

This blog is based, in part, on information from: ABC 3MissourianKTVO (1)KTVO (2)KTVO (3), KTVO (4)Joplin IndependentNews Press, Waunakee Tribune, The Cap TimesKUARCourier News, WNYTNew York TimesRegister-Star, Houston Chronicle, and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Other blog posts and “Latest News” articles at this website provide many more examples of transmission line battles in the U.S.

 

AltaLink Sale to American Energy Giant Approved by AUC

•November 29, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Sale to American Energy Giant Approved by AUC

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), funded by the Alberta electricity transmission industry, approved the sale of AltaLink by scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett (Edmonton Journal). The sale price has been estimated at $3.2 billion, and the deal was approved yesterday.

Many Albertans (including politicians), businesses and corporations have warned that the sale of AltaLink to an American corporation may result in: loss of control over regulation and operation of AltaLink; loss of control over our transmission infrastructure; export of more electricity to the power-hungry U.S.; and most importantly, increases in costs of already-expensive electricity transmission to Albertans. These warnings are particularly important considering AltaLink delivers electricity to the vast majority of Alberta’s population – about 85%. Also, there have been questions about how the extremely high price tag of the sale will be passed on to Alberta ratepayers.

What has many Albertans, businesses and industry concerned about the export of more electricity to the U.S. is that Albertans pay 100% of the transmission infrastructure costs in Alberta, while the transmission companies reap the financial benefits. Although the transmission industry, the AUC, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), and the Alberta Government have promised that none of the new transmission infrastructure being built is for export, it is well known that the same four players have been working closely together for over 10 years in an attempt to make Alberta a leading exporter of electricity. This is one of the main reasons so many Albertans, including businesses and large industries, have argued against the out-of-control increase in transmission infrastructure construction in our province.

The export plan was the primary trigger for the flurry of legislation passed in 2008 and 2009 by the Alberta Government to streamline construction of new electricity transmission infrastructure, limit private property rights, and eliminate the requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments for high voltage power line construction (e.g., Land Assembly Project Area Act, Electric Statutes Amendment Act).

Although there has been significant opposition in Alberta to the sale of AltaLink to a foreign corporation, it is not surprising that the non-independent AUC approved the sale, considering the electricity transmission industry funds the AUC, and AltaLink is by far the largest and most influential transmission corporation in Alberta.

Now that AltaLink is owned by a U.S. energy giant, Albertans certainly need to worry that the vast majority of the recently-constructed transmission infrastructure will be used to export our electricity to the U.S. – at Alberta ratepayers’ expense.

Overhead Power Lines Kill More Aircraft Occupants

•November 27, 2014 • Comments Off on Overhead Power Lines Kill More Aircraft Occupants

RETA has just updated Airplane, Helicopter and Hot Air Balloon Accidents Due to Overhead Power Lines. Since we last updated this document on October 5, 2014, there have been 12 reported accidents where fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters hit power lines, killing 5 people and injuring 7.

If power lines were buried like all of our other utilities, these and hundreds of similar accidents would not have occurred or impacts would have been less severe.

Pylons to be Taken Down and Power Lines Buried in England and Wales

•November 26, 2014 • Comments Off on Pylons to be Taken Down and Power Lines Buried in England and Wales

RETA pylons no photoAs part of reversing poor planning decisions by National Grid in erecting unsightly pylons (towers) in scenic locations in England and Wales, the energy regulator Ofgem is setting aside £500 million to bury high voltage cables, or screen them, or reroute them away from beauty spots.

Linda Williams, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said, “The pylons really are ugly.” The group welcomed the decision by Ofgem. CPRE campaigner Nick Clack said, “This is a really positive step in reducing the impact of existing overhead electricity lines in our most valued countryside. Given these welcome efforts to mitigate the impact of existing lines, National Grid needs to make sure it is doing all it can to reduce the impact of new ones. Close consultation and co-operation should be applied across all regulated industries so that landscape impacts arising from big infrastructure projects are properly considered and funding is provided at the outset.”

Following a consultant’s report which identifies the ugliest overhead lines, an advisory group will help to make the final decisions on which pylons and overhead lines will be removed. The group includes the CPRE, Campaign for National Parks, English Heritage, Natural England and the National Trust.

Based on an initial assessment of 571km of overhead transmission lines in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, contenders for early investment are sites in the New Forest, Brecon Beacons, the Peak District, Snowdonia, Dorset, the High Weald, the North Wessex Downs, and the Tamar Valley.

Meanwhile, National Grid is proposing to bury 8 miles of electricity transmission cable along the Meifod Valley as part of its proposed new high voltage line from Mid Wales to Shropshire, England.

Perhaps it’s time the electricity transmission companies in Alberta, the electricity operator (AESO), and the electricity regulator (AUC) visit the United Kingdom to see how progressive jurisdictions are beginning to address the negative visual impacts of overhead high voltage lines. Whatever additional capital expenditures might be spent burying these lines will be saved in reduced maintenance, transmission loss, health and adjacent property devaluation costs.

This blog is based, in part, on articles in: BBCTindle Newspapers Ltd.The Daily Mail, and Shropshire Star . See this link for more information on the many benefits of burying high voltage transmission lines.

RETA Pylons Stop Them image

Why Isn’t AltaLink Fined for Killing Birds?

•November 24, 2014 • Comments Off on Why Isn’t AltaLink Fined for Killing Birds?

RETA AltaLink duck deaths imageDoug Smith of Sherwood Park rightly points out in this letter to the Edmonton Journal that tar sands companies are “whipping posts” when it comes to bird deaths in their tailings ponds, whereas AltaLink gets away with killing hundreds of birds and continues to be allowed to build massive overhead transmission lines in areas of high bird concentrations.

This year and last year, one of AltaLink’s new overhead high voltage power lines built near Pincher Creek killed hundreds of birds. AltaLink had been warned before the line was built in an area of high bird concentration and movement, that this might happen; however, they went ahead and built the line above ground anyway.

Syncrude was justifiably fined $3.2 million in 2010 for killing at least 1,600 waterfowl in their Fort McMurray tar sands tailings ponds in 2008. Based on the known death toll to date of birds killed by the recently-built Pincher Creek high voltage power line (445 birds), AltaLink is clearly in RETA Bird Kill photoviolation of, at least, the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, which prohibits the killing or destroying of migratory bird species. Waterfowl, such as those killed by AltaLink, are migratory bird species. But why has AltaLink not been charged?

Overhead electricity transmission and distribution lines are known to kill tens of millions of birds annually in North America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 174 million birds are killed annually from collisions with overhead power lines and towers in the U.S. alone. Isn’t it time that transmission companies be held accountable for this annual slaughter?

High voltage transmission lines should be buried like all of our other utilities. Underground power lines do not kill birds. See this link for the many benefits of burying power lines.

New AltaLink Power Line to Cross Internationally Recognized Landscape

•November 23, 2014 • Comments Off on New AltaLink Power Line to Cross Internationally Recognized Landscape

As if it wasn’t enough that a power line recently constructed by AltaLink in the Pincher Creek area has killed hundreds of birds this year and last year, AltaLink is now proposing to build more new high voltage power lines and other infrastructure near Pincher Creek within the internationally recognized Crown of the Continent landscape.

The proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Transmission Project, part of AltaLink’s Southern Alberta Transmission Reinforcement, consists of: a new Chapel Rock Substation, expansion of the existing Castle Rock Ridge Substation, a new 240kV double circuit transmission line up to 41km in length, a new 500kV transmission line up to 13km in length, and a new telecommunications tower. AltaLink plans to complete construction by 2018.

Local Crowsnest Pass resident David McIntyre has written, “AltaLink has proposed this new routing in response to a reported need for new power lines, but many reviewers question the described need. Regardless of need, the proposed routings, instead of following existing industrial corridors, would, if allowed, violate the aesthetic and ecological integrity of an iconic, drop-dead-gorgeous Alberta landscape.” AltaLink’s new electricity transmission infrastructure would mar the viewscape of the eastern flanks of Alberta’s Livingstone Range that has been seen in Hollywood movies and in the Alberta Government’s Remember to Breathe tourism ads on TV.

McIntyre has also written, “AltaLink has proposed routes that would destroy rough fescue grasslands, cut through endangered forests of limber pine and cast ominous shadows over staging areas for trumpeter swans and other waterfowl. These proposed transmission line routes and their sprawling substations would violate the integrity of a Serengeti-like landscape that’s critical winter range for wild ungulates, and habitat for grizzly bears. The proposed intrusions would degrade – and potentially overwhelm – a conservation corridor that’s being designed to allow safe wildlife movement across Highway 3.” McIntyre insists that AltaLink be required to maintain the integrity of this internationally renowned landscape and to comply with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP).

Many other people who live and work in the area are also opposed to AltaLink’s plans. The Livingstone Landowners Group (LLG) is gearing up for a battle, and has said they do not support, nor do they want to discuss, AltaLink’s proposed power line routes. They want AltaLink to use existing infrastructure corridors and avoid environmentally significant areas such as native grassland. They want the lines located and designed in ways that limit visual intrusions, preferably underground, and they want AltaLink to recognize and act in accordance with the recently-released SSRP.

Based on past experience, the LLG has said that AltaLink may use questionable procedures during their proposal consultations. LLG Director Bruce Mowat recently said, “They’ll do the very best to break you apart. They’ll try and get you fighting with your neighbour and don’t do that. Just staying working as a group. You have a lot of power in numbers working together and we found that out in the past. It’s tactics, they have lots of different tactics to approach it. And they’ll have one (consultant) come talk to you one day and you think you’ll be dealing with that fella’ and the next week it’s somebody else and then the next week after that it’s somebody else.”

AltaLink has a long history of flawed public consultation regarding siting and construction of their electricity infrastructure – see this link for many examples.

This blog is based in part on news articles in Pincher Creek Echo 1 and Pincher Creek Echo 2.

Strathcona County Opposes AltaLink Cooking Lake Transmission Line

•November 22, 2014 • Comments Off on Strathcona County Opposes AltaLink Cooking Lake Transmission Line

Strathcona County will be formally intervening in an upcoming Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing on AltaLink’s proposed Cooking Lake 138 kV Transmission Line (Sherwood Park News). The County opposes AltaLink’s preferred route through Strathcona County because residents located near this route don’t want a new high voltage power line close to their homes, and because the new line would run right through the heart of the Beaver Hills Moraine.

The Beaver Hills Moraine area covers more than 1,500 square kilometres of unique knob-and-kettle glacial moraine, and includes Elk Island National Park, the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area, Ducks Unlimited McFadden Lake Wetland Conservation Project, Bretona Pond Wetland Complex and numerous additional recognized natural areas. If the new power line is built along AltaLink’s preferred route in Strathcona County, it would run right through the Ducks Unlimited McFadden Lake Wetland Conservation Project, Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area and Bretona Pond Wetland Complex.

It is a well-known fact that overhead high voltage transmission lines negatively affect the environment in many ways, including: killing birds that crash into the conductor lines, shield wires and towers; electromagnetic fields and corona effect negatively affecting the health of wildlife; and permanent removal of natural habitat within wide overhead line rights-of-way. For a more complete discussion on the negative environmental effects of overhead high voltage power lines, read the expert environmental impact testimony presented at the Heartland Transmission Line AUC hearing in 2011.

With respect to AltaLink’s preferred route for their proposed new Cooking Lake line, Strathcona County Councillor Vic Bidzinski said, “I looked at all the routes, and I think this is one of the worst routes they could have picked.” RETA could not agree more, because AltaLink’s preferred route is longer, would require many more towers, is more expensive, and would affect about 125 more homes within 800 metres of the line than AltaLink’s alternate route. As well, AltaLink’s preferred route runs right through numerous environmentally sensitive protected areas, runs over the Cooking Lake Cemetery, and runs too close to the Cooking Lake Airport, the hamlet of South Cooking Lake and St. Luke Catholic School.

Unfortunately, AltaLink and the AUC have a long-standing habit of not letting the facts get in the way when it comes to the siting of overhead high voltage transmission lines in Alberta. Many of AltaLink’s transmission lines in our province have been built where they have the most negative environmental,  adjacent property value, health, safety and aesthetic impacts.

For more information on AltaLink’s proposed Cooking Lake Transmission Line, see this link.

When it can be clearly proven that specific new high voltage power lines are necessary, RETA continues to advocate for the burying of these lines because all of the negative impacts of overhead lines are eliminated or minimized.

AltaLink Parent Company CEO Warns Law Enforcement Authorities

•October 8, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Parent Company CEO Warns Law Enforcement Authorities

RETA corruption imageRobert Card, CEO of SNC-Lavalin which currently owns 100% of AltaLink, had the audacity to recently warn law enforcement authorities that any criminal charges against the Quebec-based engineering giant in connection with the extensive international bribery scandal would immediately threaten the future of SNC and could force it to close down (Globe and Mail).

In an unprecedented move, Card warned that if SNC was charged with criminal offences, the company’s business would be hurt severely. “If the company can’t do business, you really only have two choices. You are going to do some dismemberment and cease to exist entirely, or you are going to be owned by somebody else”, he said. Card threatened that a shift to a foreign owner would jeopardize the 5,000 Canadian SNC jobs that are associated with its headquarters in Montreal. It’s hypocritical that SNC does not seem to worry about Canadians potentially losing jobs in Alberta as it pushes to get approval of its proposed sale of AltaLink to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy, owned by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett.

RETA money-laundering imageWhat Card is suggesting is that, regardless of what criminal charges may well be laid against SNC in order that justice may be served, such charges should not be laid because it could negatively affect SNC’s business and shareholders. Perhaps SNC’s previous executive, including its former CEO and numerous former VPs, should have thought of such possible consequences before they conducted alleged fraud, bribery, money-laundering and other offences in many countries around the world, including here in Canada.

Hopefully, neither law enforcement authorities nor the judiciary will be influenced by the very inappropriate warnings of SNC-Lavalin’s CEO, Robert Card.

For more information on the multitude of corruption investigations, allegations, and charges against SNC executives and other employees, see this link. For more information on SNC’s proposed sale of AltaLink to Warren Buffett, see this link.

Scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin continues to build AltaLink’s electricity transmission infrastructure in Alberta.

AltaLink and AUC Ignore Public Concerns – Again

•October 4, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink and AUC Ignore Public Concerns – Again

Arlene and Randy Hjertaas of Red Deer provide yet another example of AltaLink and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) ignoring  residents’ concerns about overhead transmission lines (Red Deer Advocate).

They recently wrote, “It’s been smoke and mirrors from the start. AltaLink never had any intention to do anything other than what they wanted from the very beginning of the power line upgrade project through the Pines subdivision…Over 90 per cent of the affected residents were contacted and signed a petition supporting the alternate route with support unanimously endorsed by the City of Red Deer…AltaLink clearly dismissed this proposal, since during their portion of formal review by the Alberta Utilities Commission board they didn’t even mention the residents’ proposal of an alternate route”, that was less intrusive. “Without listening or caring about residents’ concerns, the AUC has approved the project”, as proposed by AltaLink.

RETA theatre imageThis is an all-too-common theme of the public consultation and hearing process for construction of transmission lines in Alberta. Homeowner and landowner concerns about the negative impacts of overhead transmission lines on property values, the environment, safety, health and aesthetics are consistently ignored by AltaLink and the AUC. Many Albertans have characterized the entire power line consultation and hearing process as “theatre” – to give the public the perception that their concerns are listened to and taken into account, when in fact they are not.

Coal-Fired Electricity Significantly Increases Health Care Costs

•September 30, 2014 • Comments Off on Coal-Fired Electricity Significantly Increases Health Care Costs

RETA coal-fired power plant photoDr. Alan Lockwood, a leading U.S. expert on the health effects of air pollution from coal, says Alberta would save millions of dollars in annual health care costs by phasing out coal-fired power plants (Edmonton Journal). He 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.”

Coal-fired electricity provides 42% to 60% of Alberta’s power, by far the highest in Canada. In Alberta, coal pollution is related to 4,800 asthma days (missed work or school due to asthma), 700 hospital visits, 80 hospital admissions and about 100 premature deaths every year. The cost is about $300 million annually to the Alberta health care system.

Ontario closed its last coal-fired power plant this year. Alberta has better solar and wind resources and cheaper natural gas resources than Ontario, and could be doing a far better job to reduce coal-fired electricity. When Jim Prentice was federal Environment Minister, he announced that Canada must phase out its coal-fired power plants and replace them with cleaner more environmentally-friendly energy sources. It will be interesting to see if, now that Prentice is Alberta’s Premier, will he continue his drive to make the change.

Councillor Riddell Says AltaLink Power Lines Threaten Environment

•September 20, 2014 • Comments Off on Councillor Riddell Says AltaLink Power Lines Threaten Environment

P1080688Strathcona County Ward 7 Councillor Bonnie Riddell says AltaLink’s proposed overhead 138 kilovolt South Cooking Lake power line will have a significant environmental impact on the sensitive Beaver Hills Moraine if AltaLink’s preferred route through the County is approved (Sherwood Park News).

Riddell points out the Beaver Hills Moraine “is a very unique and natural ecosystem with a varied habitat that houses sensitive flora and fauna. The biodiversity located in the moraine is unique in that it cannot be found in the surrounding agricultural and urban landscapes…this proposed transmission line is another development that will not benefit the residents of Strathcona County.”

Councillor Riddell is absolutely correct. AltaLink’s proposed overhead high voltage power line would run right through the Bretona Pond wetland complex, Ducks Unlimited McFadden Lake Wetland Conservation Project, Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area, and many other ecologically sensitive areas within the unique knob-and-kettle Beaver Hills Moraine. See this link for information on the many negative impacts of overhead high voltage power lines on the environment, including birds.

Riddell also indicates AltaLink’s line is to service demand increases in the Leduc and Beaumont areas so, “Why then is Strathcona County being asked to bear the burden of this infrastructure?” She rightly says the line should therefore be built in AltaLink’s alternate route located in Leduc County.

P1080691In conclusion, Riddell says, “Strathcona County is not supportive of major initiatives that have little or no benefit to our residents and have further environmental impacts on the Beaver Hills Moraine, which is home to a national park and bird sanctuary. We are concerned about landowner impacts and the constraints it might place on agricultural operations along with other area development limitations this transmission line may place on us.”

RETA could not agree more with Councillor Riddell, considering all of the other negative impacts this overhead transmission line would have if built along AltaLink’s preferred route. There are 125 more residences that would be directly and adversely affected than along the alternate route. The northern route is longer and more expensive, would traverse the Cooking Lake Cemetery, would run too close to the Cooking Lake Airport, and would run too close (less than 500m) to St. Luke Catholic School.

For more information on the negative impacts of AltaLink’s preferred route for their new Cooking Lake transmission line, and the many benefits of burying the line along either their preferred or alternate route, see this link.

Underwater and Underground Transmission Line Nears Approval

•September 13, 2014 • Comments Off on Underwater and Underground Transmission Line Nears Approval

RETA Transmission Developers Inc. logoTransmission Developers Inc.’s proposed 336-mile-long direct current Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) Transmission Line from the Canadian border to the New York City metropolitan area has been reviewed for the past 6 years and appears to be nearing approval (The Daily Mail). Most of the line will be buried below the bed of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, and the remainder will be buried underground along railroad tracks and public roads. The project’s anticipated completion date is 2017.

Transmission Developers Inc.’s website says, “The project is being developed by Transmission Developers Inc. which is a developer of high voltage direct current underwater transmission systems with proposed projects in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York. These projects create new economic opportunity by delivering electricity in an environmentally conscious way that respects local communities and has no impact on the viewshed.”

It is interesting that Albany-based Transmission Developers Inc. finds it economically feasible to build underwater and underground high voltage transmission lines, and so many other transmission companies in the U.S. and Canada say it is not possible. Based on extensive research by RETA, it is indeed economically feasible to bury DC and AC high voltage transmission lines. In fact, when you combine the capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs over the life of a line, buried lines can be less expensive than overhead lines. There are many advantages of burying high voltage lines including: safety, health, property value, environmental, and aesthetic.

New Corruption Charges Haunt AltaLink’s Parent Company, SNC-Lavalin

•September 11, 2014 • Comments Off on New Corruption Charges Haunt AltaLink’s Parent Company, SNC-Lavalin

RETA corruption imageFormer SNC-Lavalin Vice-President Stephane Roy was arrested September 10 by Quebec’s anti-corruption unit and faces 11 charges in relation to alleged bribes from SNC to hospital officials to secure the lucrative McGill University super hospital contract in Montreal.

Roy is the ninth person facing charges in the Montreal hospital corruption scandal, along with: former McGill Hospital head Arthur Porter and his wife Pamela; former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime;  former senior VP Riadh Ben Aissa; former McGill Hospital executive Yanai Elbaz and his brother Yohann; Jeremy Morris of a Bahamas-based investment implicated in the fraud; and St-Clair Martin Armitage, an expert hired by the hospital to work on the project.

Arthur Porter has admitted he had ties to SNC before he is alleged to have received a $22.5-million bribe from SNC to award the $1.3 to $1.4-billion hospital construction contract to SNC. Porter admitted that during the bidding process for the Montreal super hospital, he was being wooed by SNC to work as an international lobbyist. This new information is important because it reveals Porter had close ties to SNC long before the prosecution case previously thought.

Also arrested and charged September 10 was well-known tax lawyer Constantine Kyres of Montreal-based Dentons Canada LPP. Kyres is charged with extortion and obstruction of justice as part of an alleged plot to pay for a statement from former SNC Vice-President Riadh Ben Aissa, one of the main characters in the widespread multinational corruption scandal that has affected SNC-Lavalin’s financial performance and reputation.

RETA money-laundering imageSami Bebawi, another former senior SNC executive, was also charged with obstruction of justice as part of his role in the vast bribery and fraud scheme at SNC. An outstanding warrant exists for Bebawi’s arrest stemming from earlier charges including fraud, money-laundering and bribing a foreign official. Bebawi and Ben Aissa have been identified by authorities in court documents as co-conspirators in a plot to bribe Saadi Gadhafi, son of the tyrannous Libyan Moammar Gadhafi, in order to secure a number of multi-million dollar contracts in Libya.

Several other SNC officials have also been charged in Toronto in connection with an alleged conspiracy to bribe public officials in Bangladesh to win a contract to oversee construction of the World Bank-financed Padma Bridge Project. SNC has already been banned by the World Bank (WB) from bidding on any WB projects for 10 years due to the Padma Bridge corruption case.

The above reports are based in part on articles by: Montreal Gazette, CTV News and Globe and Mail. See this link for more information on the many Canadian and international corruption cases involving SNC-Lavalin.

30,000 Calgarians in Dark Due to Downed Overhead Power Lines

•September 11, 2014 • Comments Off on 30,000 Calgarians in Dark Due to Downed Overhead Power Lines

A wicked snowstorm hit southern Alberta this week, leaving thousands in the dark due to downed overhead power lines, especially in Calgary.

The Calgary Herald reported, “Enmax spokesperson Doris Kaufmann Woodcock said at one point 30,000 customers were in the dark, some of them for upwards of 12 hours”. Fallen trees weighed down by heavy wet snow were the main culprits in bringing down power lines and causing widespread power outages across Calgary. Schools in both the public and Catholic system experienced power outages, and dozens of traffic lights went out, bringing traffic to a crawl.

Environment Canada said between 20 and 35 centimetres of snow fell in the Calgary area.

Overhead power lines – transmission and distribution lines – are vulnerable to the weather and many other factors that leave thousands of customers without power every day in North America. In particular, snow and ice storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and other high windstorms cause major disruptions that have resulted in deaths, injuries, damaged property and goods, lost productivity and other economic losses. Local politicians across Canada and the United States have asked, “Why aren’t all of our power lines buried so they would not be vulnerable to inclement weather conditions and the high costs of repairing downed infrastructure?” Calgary’s municipal politicians will undoubtedly be asking the same question over the next few weeks.

This link provides more information on power outages across North America. For more information on the many benefits of burying power lines, see this link. When the capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs are combined over the life of a line, underground power lines can be less expensive than overhead lines.

Aircraft Accidents Due to Overhead Power Lines – Updated

•September 10, 2014 • Comments Off on Aircraft Accidents Due to Overhead Power Lines – Updated

RETA has recently updated Airplane, Helicopter and Hot Air Balloon Accidents Due to Overhead Power Lines. These accidents, and thousands of similar accidents, could have been prevented, or impacts could have been reduced, if power lines were buried like all of our other utilities.

Residents and Local Politicians Upset about Dominion Power High Voltage Line

•September 8, 2014 • Comments Off on Residents and Local Politicians Upset about Dominion Power High Voltage Line

Residents and local politicians are upset about Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to build a new 230 kilovolt overhead high voltage transmission line through Gainsville, Haymarket, Somerset, Somerset Crossing, Greenhill and Buckland Mills, Virginia (Washington Post). Dominion Power wants to begin construction of the line and a new substation in spring 2016 and have electricity flowing by spring 2017.

RETA Fight the Power Line logo imageResidents say the line would cut through protected wetlands and negatively affect the environment, “will cause massive drops in property values and will cause health problems including cancer. Several communities have organized to fight the transmission line, including Fight The Power Line which says they do not agree with the above-ground power line location as proposed. The organization supports preservation of their natural habitats for endangered species and is concerned about the health of their children, including those attending Haymarket Elementary School and Buckland Mills Elementary School.

Local politicians are baffled by the plans for the line and say there is no significant proposed community expansion to warrant the new line. Haymarket Mayor David Leake said he “felt a little misled” by Dominion Power’s presentation to Town Council. He suggested Dominion has a particular new customer in mind, but Dominion has refused to indicate who the new customer might be. Haymarket Council member Joe Pasanello said there was a lack of honest outreach by Dominion and claimed that “their intent is to try to steamroll residents who live along the railroad right-of-way. It is irresponsible and an exercise of hubris by Dominion to present only one alternative and expect the community to toe the line, as it were.”

Update on Corruption at SNC-Lavalin, the Company Building AltaLink’s Transmission Lines

•September 3, 2014 • Comments Off on Update on Corruption at SNC-Lavalin, the Company Building AltaLink’s Transmission Lines

RETA SNC Lavalin RCMP photo inside apr 13 2012Some stock analysts are suggesting that SNC-Lavalin has rounded the corner on the multiple Canadian and international corruption investigations, allegations and charges against SNC-Lavalin and many of its former executive members during the past few years. To the contrary, the string of fraud, bribery and money-laundering allegations and charges against SNC has not gone away.

(Quebec-based SNC is currently 100% owner of AltaLink but is in the midst of trying to sell the transmission company to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. After the sale, SNC-Lavalin will continue to build and manage construction of AltaLink’s high voltage power lines.)

CBC News recently compiled a list of who’s who in the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) bribery case where SNC-Lavalin executives are alleged to have committed crimes , and charged with committing crimes, in order to secure the lucrative $1.4 billion contract to build the new MUHC in Montreal. The Quebec Provincial Police (QPP) says the bribery case is “the biggest fraud and corruption investigation in Canadian history”. The super hospital contract is one of Canada’s most expensive public works projects.

Former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime was forced to resign and was arrested in 2012 on charges of fraud, conspiracy and issuing false documents in relation to allegedly ordering secret payments to help SNC win the super hospital construction contract in Montreal.

Riadh Ben Aissa, former executive vice-president of construction at SNC, was forced to resign and was arrested in Switzerland in 2012, accused of bribery and corruption in securing SNC contracts in Libya under the dictatorial Moammar Gadhafi regime. A warrant for Ben Aissa’s arrest has also been issued in Canada on charges of fraud and issuing false documents, alleging he ordered $22.5 million in kickbacks to help SNC win the MUHC contract. Ben Aissa and Duhaime are among eight people charged in connection with alleged fraud and other crimes in the MUHC corruption case.

QPP investigators and the media discovered there had been regular and improper communications between MUHC employees (including former MUHC director Arthur Porter and redevelopment director Yanai Elbaz) and representatives from SNC-Lavalin (including Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aissa). An agreement was allegedly reached between SNC-Lavalin and Porter and Elbaz that ensured the contract would be awarded to a consortium headed up by SNC in exchange for a $30-million bribe. QPP speculated that in the end, perhaps due to the complexities involved in cheating the system, only $22.5 million were allegedly transferred to Porter and Elbaz. The transactions were allegedly hidden using seemingly legitimate payments made by SNC-Lavalin to a series of shell companies set up by Porter and Elbaz.

While SNC-Lavalin and a Spanish consortium OHL were in the midst of bidding on the MUHC contract in 2010, SNC VP Riadh Ben Aissa called Miguel Fraile of the Spanish consortium into SNC’s Montreal head office. According to testimony by Fraile at the Quebec Charbonneau Commission corruption inquiry, Ben Aissa threatened Fraile by asking, “Who am I? Who is OHL? We are nothing. We are nobody. Montreal is SNC’s city, the MUHC is its project”. Ben Aissa told Fraile OHL must withdraw from the bidding, which was set to close in March. SNC is a “powerful company in Canada” said Ben Aissa, and if OHL dropped out, the two firms might be able to team up in the future. Fraile testified saying, “Ben Aissa said that if we (OHL) won the contract, he would make our lives impossible.” A senior MUHC hospital official told the inquiry commission that the menacing sense of entitlement reflected in Mr. Ben Aissa’s alleged tirade was also evident among senior executives at the MUHC.

Based on testimony from MUHC executive Imma Franco at the Charbonneau inquiry, Elbaz spoke directly to her, telling her to encourage contract selection committee members to give higher marks to SNC-Lavalin than to the Spanish consortium also bidding on the hospital contract. Elbaz told Franco to remember what the boss (Arthur Porter) wanted, and to remember where her paycheque came from.  Franco said she ignored Elbaz’s suggestion and encouraged her fellow selection committee members to be fair and impartial. They gave higher marks to the Spanish consortium. The Spanish consortium was suddenly disqualified, which came as a shock to the selection committee, and the MUHC top brass announced that SNC-Lavalin would build the super hospital. In an additional subsequent rigged bidding process, SNC-Lavalin was awarded the contract.

Further testimony at the Charbonneau Commission inquiry revealed SNC-Lavalin engineers cheated by changing their plans and using a rival consortium’s designs for the MUHC which were deemed technically superior. Testimony indicated that Yanai Elbaz of the MUHC had secretly provided SNC with privileged design information from the rival bidder. At least two of the SNC engineers felt uncomfortable about cheating but did what they were asked under pressure from their superiors. One of the SNC engineers went to the QPP in 2012 after learning of the alleged fraud.

As if the MUHC corruption case couldn’t get any more scandalous, SNC-Lavalin had the audacity a few months ago to submit a request to Quebec Health for an additional $191 million to complete the hospital project which was supposed to be a $1.343-billion fixed-price contract. Quebec’s Health Minister said they have no intention of paying that amount of money because the vast majority of the request is for unauthorized work.

With respect to Ben Aissa’s imprisonment in a Swiss jail over alleged bribery, money laundering and corruption in relation to his work for SNC in Libya, he and his lawyers are reported to have signed an out-of-court settlement last month with Swiss federal prosecutors for him to enter a guilty plea on all the charges, except embezzlement, in exchange for a sentence recommendation that could see him released from Swiss custody. The deal will be considered by a Swiss court possibly in October. Ben Aissa still faces extradition to Canada to face charges of arranging $22.5 million in alleged bribes paid to secure the contract to build the Montreal MUHC.

Burnaby, British Columbia Mayor Derek Corrigan continues his criticism of SNC-Lavalin’s involvement in Port Metro Vancouver’s approval of a $15-million coal transfer facility that would see a dramatic increase in the number of coal trains through New Westminster, Surrey and Delta as American coal is brought into B.C. and shipped overseas to China. Corrigan has blasted the standards of SNC-Lavalin, pointing out the engineering giant’s history of corruption in Canada and many other countries.

The RCMP and Swiss authorities continue to investigate allegations against Michel Fournier of accepting $1.5 million in bribes from SNC-Lavalin which won a $127-million contract in 2000 to resurface the roadway on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. At the time, Fournier was the head of a federal Crown corporation that operates the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain bridges in Quebec.

Lafarge Canada has recently sued the consortium of SNC-Lavalin and Graham Companies for not receiving all payments for work Lafarge conducted on the west leg of Calgary’s LRT line. Lafarge says it has tried to collect for more than a year but has been unsuccessful, so has now filed a lawsuit.

In follow up to the past several years of corruption allegations and charges against SNC-Lavalin, the company recently reported a return to profit in the second quarter that fell sharply below analysts’ expectations. SNC says it has been challenged by old projects started by previous management that continue to hurt the bottom line, but some analysts wonder about the effect of the widespread corruption scandal on SNC’s performance.

The above reports are based in part on: CBC News 1Montreal Gazette 1Montreal Gazette 2, CBC News 2CTV MontrealCanada NewsToronto Star, CBC News 3Burnaby NowReutersCTV Calgary and QMI Agency. For additional information on the many corruption allegations and charges against SNC-Lavalin and its former executive members in Canada and around the world, see this link.

AltaLink Selects Route for Cooking Lake Power Line with Most Impacts

•July 22, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Selects Route for Cooking Lake Power Line with Most Impacts

P1080691AltaLink recently informed Strathcona County Council and some landowners that their preferred route for a new 138kV transmission line from Anthony Henday East to their South Cooking Lake substation is along Highway 14 in Strathcona County (Sherwood Park News). Not all residents and landowners who would be negatively affected by the new overhead power line were notified. AltaLink will be recommending their preferred route to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC).

Many residents want the line buried, which would essentially eliminate the negative property value, health, safety, environmental, agricultural (livestock and crops), tourism and aesthetic impacts of an overhead line, regardless of where it is built. Strathcona County residents are wondering why AltaLink selected the northern route over a southern route through Leduc County. AltaLink’s preferred route has the most negative impacts, based on any of the considerations and statistics. AltaLink’s preferred route:

1. Directly and adversely impacts about 125 more homes within 800 metres of the line than along the southern route.

2. Runs too close to the hamlet of South Cooking Lake, with a population of about 300.

3. Runs less than 500 metres from St. Luke Catholic School. (Remember, the Heartland line forced Colchester Elementary School to close down which cost taxpayers about $21 million to relocate Colchester students.)

P10806884. Runs through the Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area.

5. Runs through the Ducks Unlimited McFadden Lake Wetland Conservation Project. (Overhead power lines kill 174 million birds/year in the U.S. alone. AltaLink lines have already been documented killing hundreds of birds.)

6. Runs through the Bretona Pond Wetland Complex (a Buck-for-Wildlife Area recognized in Strathcona County’s Outdoor Master Plan).

7. Runs over the Cooking Lake Cemetery.

P10806968. Runs too close to the Cooking Lake Airport which currently has about 10,000 aircraft movements/year. (Overhead transmission lines cause aircraft accidents, injuries and deaths.)

9. Is at least 1.3 kilometres longer than the southern route.

10. Will require at least 10 more towers than the southern route.

11. Is more expensive to build because it is longer than the southern route.

Some Strathcona County residents have also expressed concerns about AltaLink’s current parent company, Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin, building the Cooking Lake line. During the past several years, SNC-Lavalin has been in the centre of multiple Canadian and international corruption investigations, allegations and charges, including fraud, bribery and money-laundering. Even if the proposed sale of AltaLink by scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy (owned by billionaire Warren Buffett) is approved by the AUC and the federal government, SNC would continue building AltaLink’s transmission infrastructure and managing AltaLink’s construction projects.

On Thursday August 21, a landowner meeting will take place at the South Cooking Lake Hall. Strathcona County Councillors and administration will also be present. The meeting will provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions and to raise their concerns.

For more information on AltaLink’s proposed Cooking Lake transmission line, see this link.

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CEO Doesn’t Care What Public or Politicians Think about AltaLink Sale

•July 17, 2014 • Comments Off on CEO Doesn’t Care What Public or Politicians Think about AltaLink Sale

AltaLink CEO Scott Thon recently said he isn’t fazed either by public input to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) or by the comments from politicians concerned about the impending sale of AltaLink by Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy (Calgary Herald 1). (The AUC and the federal government must approve the sale before it can occur.)

Letters to Alberta newspaper editors from members of the public overwhelming oppose the sale since it was announced in May, many of them worried most about the sale potentially resulting in higher electricity transmission costs in Alberta. The majority of the 300 emails recently received from the public by the AUC express concern or raise questions about the sale. The Alberta NDP has formally opposed the sale, and the Wildrose and Liberals have also expressed concerns. The 3 Progressive Conservative leadership candidates have been urged to fight the sale of AltaLink (Calgary Herald 2). ATCO CEO Nancy Southern has raised significant concerns about the sale including foreign ownership, losing control of our critical infrastructure, losing control over electricity transmission regulation, and export of Alberta electricity to the U.S.

AltaLink has taken out a myriad of newspaper and radio ads and written letters to newspaper editors in an attempt to defend the sale. It appears that, so far, AltaLink has not convinced Albertans the sale of AltaLink to a U.S. corporation owned by billionaire Warren Buffett is good for Alberta. See this link for more information on the sale, and this link for information on AltaLink’s current parent company, scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin.

 

AltaLink and ATCO in War of Words Over AltaLink Sale

•July 4, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink and ATCO in War of Words Over AltaLink Sale

RETA Canada flag imageRETA USA flag imageThe sale of AltaLink by Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy, controlled by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett, is causing a lot of heated discussion in Alberta. The sale, expected to close December 31, needs approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and the federal government.

As the AUC hearing on the sale approaches, Albertans are voicing their opinions, the vast majority against the sale. ATCO President and CEO, Nancy Southern, was one of the first to raise a red flag two months ago about the impending sale. Yesterday, ATCO went a step further by taking out full-page ads in numerous Alberta newspapers, suggesting the sale was not good for Alberta. As interesting as the ad itself, the fact that ATCO sponsored the ad anonymously has added to the drama.

The ad in the Edmonton Journal read as follows:

We’re Losing Control 

One of the richest corporations in the United States has made a bid to buy the electricity grid that serves 85% of Albertans

The pending sale of AltaLink to Berkshire Hathaway has serious consequences for the province we call home:

     Loss of control of our critical infrastructure

     Regulation oversight stops at the border

     Potential for more power exports

If you think the Province and the Federal Government should conduct a policy review to determine who should own the infrastructure at the heart of Alberta’s prosperity, make your voice heard. Contact your MLA, the Federal Minister of Industry at: minister.industry@ic.gc.ca or the Alberta Utilities Commission at: consumer-relations@auc.ab.ca

When asked about the ad, Southern said she’s not opposed to direct foreign investment in Canada, but the transmission grid is different (Edmonton Journal). She said, it’s the “lifeblood” of the electricity industry and shouldn’t fall into American ownership, beyond the reach of Canadian regulators. Southern also said Albertans haven’t had enough time to consider the deal and its implications.

AltaLink President and CEO Scott Thon, who was recently seconded for about a year to work directly for AltaLink’s current parent company, scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin, as interim head of SNC’s Global Power Unit, said the ads “smacked of self-interest”. He questioned why they were anonymous. “The only conclusion I can bring is that you want them to be anonymous because you want them to spread misinformation, and that’s what these ads do” he said. Thon has been busy trying to defend the sale, since the announcement in May, by writing letters to newspaper editors and taking out newspaper and radio ads.

Albertans will certainly be following the sale of AltaLink with interest. On one hand, leaving SNC-Lavalin which has been at the centre of multiple cross-Canada and international corruption allegations and charges for the past 2 years, might help AltaLink improve its sagging corporate image. However if the sale goes through,  AltaLink will be owned by Warren Buffett whose business dealings have raised eyebrows in other contexts. For example, Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway is being heavily criticized for carrying up to 70% of all crude-by-rail traffic in North America, which is causing alarm among American and Canadian municipalities, as increasing numbers of derailments and associated spills, explosions and fires have killed people, seriously damaged the environment, and caused significant property damage.

It’s worth noting that, even though SNC-Lavalin would no longer be AltaLink’s parent company following the sale, under an arrangement that is part of the sale, SNC will continue designing, building and managing construction of AltaLink’s high voltage power lines in Alberta, as it does now. It is difficult to assess how forgiving Albertans might be of SNC’s long history of alleged bribery, fraud and money laundering.

For more information on the sale of AltaLink, see this link.

Brazilian Courts Order Lower Power Line Electromagnetic Pollution

•June 27, 2014 • Comments Off on Brazilian Courts Order Lower Power Line Electromagnetic Pollution

RETA Lady Justice photo logoRETA Health hazard imageThe Court of the State of Sao Paulo recently determined that the Sao Paulo electricity transmission provider must reduce the level of electromagnetic (EMF) pollution produced by power lines to standards adopted by Swiss law (1.0 microtesla or 10 mG) (Environmental News Network). Currently, EMFs generated by overhead transmission lines in Sao Paulo, and most other places around the world, are at least 10 times higher than this near the lines. (For example, the EMF levels are about 12 to 14 times higher than 10 mG near transmission lines in the Edmonton, Alberta area.)

The court decision was based on the Brazilian Federal Constitution and the United Nations Precautionary Principle, which both declare the protection of health and the environment. The court also widely examined the international research on the effects of EMFs on health, and recognized “the great possibility of the electromagnetic field of low frequency to be a carcinogenic agent in human beings”.

Coalition Fights Overhead Power Lines in New York

•June 10, 2014 • Comments Off on Coalition Fights Overhead Power Lines in New York

RETA No Monster Power Lines photoA coalition of  community associations, towns, land conservancy associations and other institutions is fighting proposed new and expanded overhead high voltage transmission lines that are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “New York Energy Highway” initiative (New York TimesRegister-Star). In particular, the coalition is opposed to proposed construction of new above-ground transmission lines along a 153-mile-long swath that runs right through the historic and environmentally-rich Hudson River Valley. More than 80 municipalities in 18 counties would be negatively impacted, including 24 municipalities in the Hudson River Valley.

The coalition has articulated the following concerns and positions:

1. Lines would negatively affect property values and businesses.

2. The new or expanded power lines would halt additional building projects.

3. Transmission lines should be buried.

RETA towers many photo4. Taller towers would negatively affect the bucolic (pleasant rural country-side) nature of the Hudson River Valley.

5. Opposed to taking of land by eminent domain (expropriation).

6. Support locally-generated renewable power, other types of distributed generation, and conservation to reduce need for new transmission capacity.

7. Any new required transmission capacity should be built within existing corridors.

8.  Review need for new transmission capacity based on current data about electricity supply and demand.

Other concerns raised by New York residents about the proposed overhead transmission lines include the decreased tax base resulting from plummeting land values, health risks of higher-voltage lines and loss of local tourism.

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors and the towns of Claverack, Livingston, Stuyvesant and Stockport have all passed resolutions denouncing any upgrade plans that would seize land through eminent domain or upset the bucolic or historical nature of Columbia County. The coalition opposed to the power lines as planned also includes the following: Scenic Hudson, Town of Clinton, Clinton Concerned Citizens, Dutchess County, Dutchess Land Conservancy, Farmers and Families for Claverack, Farmers and Families for Livingston, Town of Milan, Olana Partnership, Omega Institute, Preservation League of New York State, Town of Pleasant Valley, Winnakee Land Trust and No Monster Power Lines.

There has been much talk within the State of New York about the benefits of burying the transmission lines, which is a technology that has become well-developed in the past few decades, and can be as cost-effective as building above-ground, especially when the capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs are combined over the life of the lines. A former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection recently pointed out that buried lines are more resilient during severe storms. He described projects in Connecticut and New Hampshire where “a compromise has been struck where some transmission has been underground at the most aesthetically sensitive places.”

More Studies Show Increased Health Risks of Overhead Transmission Lines

•June 9, 2014 • Comments Off on More Studies Show Increased Health Risks of Overhead Transmission Lines

RETA Health hazard imageRecent medical and scientific research is adding significantly to the growing pool of knowledge that conclusively links electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and corona ions emanating from overhead high voltage power lines to increased health risks. Unfortunately,  electricity transmission companies, transmission regulators and many governments continue to ignore these well-documented negative health effects. Fortunately, the medical and scientific communities continue to make us aware of recent studies that present additional evidence of the causal correlations between overhead power lines and increased health risks.

For example, Moberly physician Dennis Smith has presented the Missouri Public Service Commission with the Bioinitiative Report to make the commission aware of the health risks before making a final decision on whether or not to permit a new high voltage line from being built in mid-Missouri. Some residents in Chariton, Randolph and Monroe counties, Missouri, including Smith, are worried about the adverse health effects of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line, proposed to run for more RETA leukemia imagethan 700 miles from Kansas to Indiana, passing through mid-Missouri (Fox 22 KQFX). Dr. Smith was recently quoted as citing from the Bioinitiative Report, “For children who were raised for their first five years of life within 300 metres (of overhead transmission lines) have a lifetime risk that is 500 percent higher for developing some kinds of cancer”, including leukemia and breast cancer. Smith said the studies cited by Grain Belt Express officials, suggesting overhead high voltage lines have no negative health effects, are outdated.

The report cited by Smith is Bioinitiative 2012 – A Rationale for Biologically-Based Exposure Standards for Low-Intensity Electromagnetic Radiation (updated to 2014).  The report covers research published between 1990 and 2014, and has been compiled by medical and EMF experts from all over the world. With respect to extremely low frequency (ELF) EMFs, such as those emanating from overhead high voltage power lines, the report summarizes 110 peer-reviewed papers, 88% of which showed negative effects of ELF EMFs on biological organisms and processes.

There are hundreds of additional studies and pooled data that present similar results. Bonneville Power Administration data show that of 323 human studies of EMF effects on leukemia, brain cancer, breast cancer, mental health and reproductive health, one-half show increased risks due to exposure to EMFs.

A May 30, 2014 letter signed by 8 doctors and professors appeared in the Irish Medical Times indicating, “There is extensive epidemiological evidence for the increased occurrence of childhood leukaemia near to high-voltage overhead lines…The possible mechanisms behind the observed risk are beginning to be explored. Magnetic fields at levels similar to
those associated with living close to power lines show behaviour in cell lines similar to that of known carcinogens. Also, corona ions emitted from power lines may lead to RETA Eirgrid logoincreased pulmonary exposure to airborne charged particles, possibly associated with risk of childhood leukaemia. In the current public debate on the proposed new EirGrid network of pylons carrying 400 kV power lines, the Government needs to make its decisions based on the available facts and not on opinions…The available facts start with the Government’s own 2007 report suggesting that new lines should avoid areas of high population density due to a risk of childhood leukaemia.”

There are many other recent studies that show previously unreported negative health effects of EMF exposure. One that was cited by Science Index indicated that rats with chronic kidney disease and exposed to EMFs showed massive aortic calcification. The calcification pattern was unique as it formed circular rings along the length of the aortic media.

It’s mind-boggling that the kinds of data discussed above have not been able to convince transmission companies, transmission regulators and governments, world-wide, that overhead transmission lines are not safe to build near people. Burying high voltage power lines essentially eliminates the negative effects of overhead lines.

Is Sale of AltaLink Good or Bad for Albertans?

•May 27, 2014 • Comments Off on Is Sale of AltaLink Good or Bad for Albertans?

RETA AltaLink Building imageAs RETA has reported earlier, scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin is selling AltaLink to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy – owned by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett – for $3.2 billion. Is the sale good or bad for Alberta? This is a significant question, considering that AltaLink serves about 85% of Albertans, owns more than one-half of Alberta’s transmission system and operates about 12,000 kilometres of transmission lines and 280 substations.

Anyone who has followed the corruption scandal of Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin, which currently owns 100% of AltaLink, might think the sale should help AltaLink distance itself from the myriad of international investigations and charges against SNC.

Mario Beauregard-Montreal Québec CanadaTo date, about 2 dozen former SNC executives, other senior staff and SNC agents, including former CEO Pierre Duhaime, are being investigated and/or have been charged with a variety of offences including: bribery, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, money-laundering, use of forged documents, participating in secret commissions, influencing foreign officials, making illegal political donations, bid-rigging or contract rigging. SNC-Lavalin and/or its former executives or agents are being or have been investigated in many countries, SNC has had contracts cancelled or has been banned from bidding in several countries, SNC has been banned from bidding on any World Bank projects, and SNC has been involved in allegedly questionable business practices in many countries including: Canada (e.g., Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland & Labrador), U.S.A., Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, Panama, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Cambodia. As well, Swiss and French authorities have been investigating SNC. The engineering giant is being or has been sued by many parties including: investors over alleged misrepresentations of SNC’s financial status, former employees for alleged wrongful dismissals, other contractors, and by over 800 homeowners in Quebec.

Not being tarred with the same brush of corruption as its parent company should help improve the image of AltaLink. However, presumably following its sale to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, AltaLink would continue to be included on the World Bank’s no-bid list, along with the majority of SNC’s other subsidiaries.  One may argue – “so what” – when would AltaLink ever want to bid on any World Bank funded projects? However, the stigma associated with this ban certainly does not enhance AltaLink’s corporate image.

Perhaps more importantly, and as part of the AltaLink sale, SNC would continue to design, build, and manage construction of AltaLink’s transmission infrastructure – as it does now. In other words, although SNC would no longer own AltaLink, the 2 companies would continue to work very closely together, and SNC would essentially be guaranteed a very long future of lucrative contracts in Alberta. As well, the sale includes a joint transmission project development agreement between SNC-Lavalin and MidAmerican Transmission – a Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary – that guarantees SNC additional significant transmission engineering design and construction contracts in the U.S.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy logoTo date, many Alberta individuals have voiced their concerns about AltaLink’s sale to an American corporation, suggesting that a foreign-owned AltaLink could soon start operating in the best interests of the U.S. rather than Alberta. Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason has called on the provincial PC Government to ask the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to reject the sale, saying, “I don’t believe, fundamentally, that our transmission system in this province should be an internationally traded commodity. All of that will merely serve to ultimately raise the price of our electricity…In private hands, especially foreign hands, where a company is in it to make money, there’s a real risk there won’t be enough invested in maintenance of the existing system, which could lead ultimately to serious problems with the delivery of electricity in the province.”

Many Albertans are concerned that, following the AltaLink sale to a U.S. corporation, the price of electricity transmission in Alberta will increase even more than it has been escalating in recent years. Once AltaLink is controlled by a foreign company, it is possible that neither Albertans nor the AUC would have much to say about how the company is operated or in determining what we get charged for electricity transmission.  Furthermore, and as Kurt Kure wrote in this letter to the Red Deer Advocate, “An American-focused company will control the majority of Alberta’s ‘critical infrastructure’ and, in a deregulated market, will sell to the highest bidder. This will drive electricity prices up dramatically within the province when Albertans are competing in an international market for our locally produced power.”

ATCO CEO Nancy Southern has said AltaLink’s critical transmission infrastructure should remain Canadian-owned: “…the fact is that people in Alberta and people in Canada are driven by different motives and our government is driven by different motives than perhaps a foreign entity would be.”

Some individuals upset about the sale are suggesting that Albertans should directly own electricity transmission institutions like in other provinces, so that profits can accrue to the public, rather than to a few transmission giants. The private sector certainly has not been kind to Albertans when it comes to electricity, because we pay among the highest prices in the country.

The Alberta Government has consistently been telling Albertans that none of the massive 500kV lines recently built are for export of electricity to the U.S. This is hard to believe, now that the vast majority of the transmission infrastructure Alberta consumers have paid for will be owned by an American transmission giant. Electricity consumer groups, municipalities, homeowners and landowners raised the export concern repeatedly during AUC hearings for the Heartland, Western Alberta and Eastern Alberta transmission lines. It is now clear that Albertans have been duped by AltaLink, the AUC and the Alberta Government.

In conclusion, we wish to excerpt a quote from Kurt Kure’s letter to the Red Deer Advocate, because we could not say it any better: “I would like to encourage readers to think about the implications of the sale of AltaLink. For us Albertans, $3.24 billion in homegrown growth will leave our economy for Quebec (SNC-Lavalin) and dictators’ pockets unknown and our future electricity costs hang in the balance as we will have to compete on a global market for our own power. Also please consider the ramifications of handing over our ‘critical infrastructure’ to an American company. I can’t see how the people of Alberta would be anything more than an afterthought to those striving towards their primary objective of making money for Warren Buffett.”

Is the sale of AltaLink by Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy good or bad for Albertans? You be the judge.

This story is based, in part, on information from: Berkshire Hathaway EnergyRed Deer AdvocateEdmonton Journal 1Edmonton Journal 2, AltaLink, Edmonton Journal 3Edmonton Journal 4.

Power, Money and Politics

•May 19, 2014 • Comments Off on Power, Money and Politics

RETA Florida Power and Light logo imageA 230kV high voltage transmission line proposed by Florida Power and Light (FPL) to run from Cutler Bay through Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Grove to a substation in Coconut Grove, has been generating significant opposition from residents and businesses (Tampa Bay Times). As well, three 500kV transmission lines proposed to run through Everglades National Park have angered conservationists. The high voltage lines are part of a larger proposal by FPL to also build 2 new nuclear power generators.

RETA property value impact imageThe cities have argued that, if FPL thinks it needs the high voltage lines, they should be built underground to protect property values and avoid negative effects on economic development. Cities have estimated 8,000 jobs would be lost and property values would drop by 10% because of the negative aesthetics (e.g., visual impacts) of the proposed massive towers. And, the cities of Coral Grove and Pinecrest have filed a lawsuit claiming the project violates a 30-year franchise agreement they have with FPL which indicates FPL will build only smaller transmission infrastructure – not the 230kV lines strung on 100-foot towers currently proposed (Miami Herald).

RETA environmental impact imageThe National Parks Conservation Association, which argues the overhead lines would have a detrimental effect on sensitive wildlife habitats, said the law requires power companies to build transmission lines in places that have the least adverse impacts, whereas, FPL has not been required to identify a transmission corridor that does not cut through the everglades.

Cities have asked Governor Rick Scott and Cabinet, who will sit as the Power Plant Siting Board, to reject FPL’s request. This has become a political hot potato for the Governor and Cabinet members who are being pressured by their electorate to kill the project, but on the other hand FPL has been working hard to try to influence approval of the project. FPL and its parent company NextEra have donated more than $800,000 directly to Governor Scott and his political committee since 2010. The company gave another $50,000 to the political committee of Attorney General and Cabinet member Pam Bondi, more than $700,000 to the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) this election cycle, more than $1 million to the RPOF in 2012 and another $1.1 million in 2010. The party then gave all but one-third of the more than $3 million it collected this cycle back to the political committee of the Governor and Cabinet.

RETA dollars in money bag imagePower companies (generation and transmission) in North America are well known for their large political donations to influence decisions on the need for power plants and transmission lines and the routing of transmission lines. As a result, the public interest is often ignored as new plants and power lines are built when they are not needed and in locations where people, economic development and the environment are negatively impacted.

Will AltaLink and the AUC Close Down Another Strathcona County School?

•May 16, 2014 • Comments Off on Will AltaLink and the AUC Close Down Another Strathcona County School?

RETA AltaLink Building imageAs more information becomes available on AltaLink’s plans to build its new Cooking Lake 138kV Transmission Line, residents in southern Strathcona County are becoming more concerned and angry. AltaLink’s proposed northern route would see the line built along Highway 14 from Anthony Henday Freeway to a substation near the hamlet of South Cooking Lake.

Residents living along AltaLink’s proposed northern route have raised concerns about the documented impacts of overhead high voltage power lines on health, safety, the environment, property values, tourism, livestock, crops, aircraft and overall quality of life.

They have pointed out that an overhead high voltage power line built along AltaLink’s northern route would:

1. Run too close to the hamlet of South Cooking Lake, with a population of about 300.

2. Run less than 500 metres from St. Luke Catholic School.

3. Directly and negatively affect about 125 more homes within 800 metres of the line than along the proposed southern route.

4. Run right through the Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area.

5. Run right through the Bretona Pond Wetland Complex (a Buck-for-Wildlife Area)

6. Run too close to the Cooking Lake Airport which currently has about 10,000 aircraft movements/year.

7. Be at least 1.3 kilometres longer than the proposed southern route.

8. Require at least 10 more towers than the proposed southern route.

9. Cost much more to build than along the proposed southern route because it is longer and would require more infrastructure.

RETA school closure sign imageWith respect to proximity of a northern route power line to  St. Luke Catholic School (less than 500m), many Strathcona County residents will remember what happened to Colchester Elementary School when the Heartland overhead power line was built near it. 95% of parents had voted not to send their children to Colchester School if the Heartland line was built in the Sherwood Park Greenbelt because they did not want to submit their children to the health and safety risks of an overhead high voltage line close to their school. AltaLink and EPCOR favoured the Greenbelt route right next to Colchester School, and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) agreed with them, even though this route impacted over 15 times more homes within 800m than an alternate route (5,194 homes vs 342). The Alberta Government had also supported the Greenbelt route from the outset. Now the Heartland line has been completed and energized, and Colchester School has been closed down. The Alberta Government subsequently had to spend about $21 million to move the approximately 185 Colchester students to Fultonvale School. Unfortunately, AltaLink, EPCOR, the AUC and the Alberta Government would not support burying a section of the Heartland line in order to keep the school open.

If AltaLink’s northern route for their proposed Cooking Lake Transmission Line is selected, will St. Luke Catholic School also have to be closed down?

Several residents who attended the information meeting on May 5, 2014 at the South Cooking Lake Seniors Activity Centre questioned the AUC about how meaningful AltaLink’s public consultation process and the AUC hearing would be. They said, based on past hearings to determine high voltage power line routing, it appears AltaLink and the AUC have already decided where specific lines will be built before any consultations and hearings are held. The Heartland power line decision was cited as one such example.

The credibility and impartiality of the AUC was also questioned at the meeting. The AUC representative said that even though the electricity industry funds the AUC and pays AUC staff salaries, the AUC is an independent quasi-judicial body that is neutral. Most people in Alberta have witnessed enough examples of industry-funded agencies, including regulatory bodies, to know that “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. This is undoubtedly why 99% of the AUC’s decisions regarding transmission line routing are in favour of the transmission companies’ applications, with perhaps the odd minor change or condition. Many Albertans (e.g., residents, businesses, technical experts, legal counsel) who have been directly involved with AUC hearings have told RETA the AUC simply rubber stamps industries’ applications at the expense of the public interest.

RETA’s position with respect to construction of new high voltage power lines is that they should be buried to eliminate all the negative impacts of overhead lines. When you combine the capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs over the life of a line, underground lines are less expensive than above-ground lines.

Process for Construction of New Overhead Transmission Lines Stacked Against Property Owners

•May 15, 2014 • Comments Off on Process for Construction of New Overhead Transmission Lines Stacked Against Property Owners

Red Deer County resident Kurt Kure is upset, as are many Albertans, about the public consultation and hearing process associated with construction of new high voltage power lines.

In this letter to the Red Deer Advocate yesterday, Kure writes about the Western Alberta Transmission Line, “AltaLink had just served our family two right-of-entry orders just weeks RETA AUC logobefore. I have a personal stake in this illegitimate enterprise as it directly affects my family’s long-term plan to build a new home in the AUC-dictated right-of-way. We have been harassed by landmen, intimidated through AltaLink’s draconian so-called ‘consultation’, negotiation and routing practices, and pushed aside and ignored by the AUC, Surface Rights Board, and our government through this whole wearisome process. A process which has been stacked against property owners and the Alberta public from the very beginning, with our government barring public discourse on this massive overbuild with Bill 50.”

Many Albertans who have contacted RETA have characterized the entire public consultation and hearing process related to new power line construction as “theatre” – an attempt to suggest to the public that their input is meaningful. Kure certainly provides another good example of how landowners’ concerns about massive overhead high voltage transmission lines are ignored by everyone involved in the process: transmission companies such as AltaLink, Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), Surface Rights Board, and the Alberta Government.

RETA intimidation imageFor more information on how the public interest is cast aside whenever new high voltage power lines are built in Alberta, see Electricity Transmission in Alberta Ignores the Public Interest and Public Interest Overridden in Power Line Construction – Court of Appeal. For more information on how intimidating the entire public consultation and hearing process is, see AUC Power Line Hearings Intimidating and Unfair to Residents, No One Wants AltaLink’s Overhead Power Lines and AUC Heartland Hearing – Day 13.

ATCO CEO Has It All Wrong

•May 14, 2014 • Comments Off on ATCO CEO Has It All Wrong

RETA ATCO Southern imageAt a recent ATCO subsidiary Canadian Utilities annual general meeting, ATCO Group CEO Nancy Southern suggested that a cumbersome electricity transmission regulatory review process is the reason behind Alberta consumers paying among the highest electricity prices in Canada (Edmonton Journal). She complained about the documentation required by regulators in Alberta to justify construction of new high voltage transmission lines. Southern’s comments show just how out-of-touch the electricity transmission industry has become. The facts certainly do not support her contention.

During the past 6 to 7 years, the Alberta Government has been doing all it can to streamline the process for construction of new high voltage transmission lines to the point where the associated regulatory review process is a joke. In 2008, the P.C. Government exempted all high voltage power line construction from the requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Since 2008, transmission companies no longer need to submit detailed environmental studies that must comply with provincial environmental impact standards. Rather, it is up to the discretion of the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to determine how much or how little environmental information even needs to be submitted by companies planning to build new high voltage power lines. As a result of this change, we have seen new high voltage lines built right in the middle of environmentally sensitive wetlands and other natural areas where birds are being killed through collision with overhead conductors, shield wires and towers.

To further make it easier for companies like ATCO to build new power lines, the Alberta Government passed the Electric Statutes Amendment Act in 2009 (Bill 50), wherein the Alberta Government unilaterally determined what is critical transmission infrastructure and eliminated any public input into determining whether specific new high voltage lines were even necessary. The Heartland Transmission Project, Eastern Alberta Transmission Line and Western Alberta Transmission Line were among those built pursuant to Bill 50. Industrial power consumer groups, academic studies, electricity consumer advocacy groups, municipalities and homeowner associations have provided volumes and volumes of data to show that these and many other new lines were not necessary; nevertheless, the AUC approved them.

Also in 2009, the Alberta Government passed the Land Assembly Project Area Act which made it much easier for the Minister of Infrastructure to designate private land for future high voltage power lines. This legislation means that any private land designated was essentially sterilized for other uses for an indefinite period of time.

In the U.S.A., state and federal politicians get involved with debates about the need for, and construction and routing of, new high voltage power lines because their constituents demand their participation. On the other hand, in Alberta, P.C. MLAs leave electricity transmission companies to run their businesses with almost no oversight to ensure only those power lines that are necessary are built, that consumers pay fair electricity prices, that Albertans’ health, safety and property values are considered, and that environmental protection is appropriately considered. In Alberta, very seldom do P.C. MLAs support their constituents’ concerns about the negative impacts of overhead high voltage lines. It is also important to note that, in the U.S.A., the environmental assessment requirements for new high voltage lines are much more rigorous than in Alberta, which helps to minimize the negative impacts on the environment.

Almost all applications (99%) made by companies like ATCO to the AUC for construction of new transmission lines are approved with very few substantive or meaningful conditions. The AUC essentially rubber stamps the applications submitted by transmission companies. Input from landowners, homeowners, municipalities, electricity consumer groups, health experts, environmental experts, property value experts, and others who question the need for, and safety of, overhead high voltage power lines is generally ignored by the AUC and Alberta Government.

RETA dollar sign image (smaller)With respect to the high costs of electricity for Alberta homeowners, businesses and industry, there are many reasons, none of which have anything to do with Nancy Southern’s contention that a “cumbersome and costly” regulatory process is at fault. Many electricity market experts have indicated Alberta’s fully deregulated electricity generation market system, the only one in Canada, has resulted in high power costs. Another reason Albertans pay among the highest electricity prices in Canada is the increasing number of unnecessary transmission lines that are being built, the costs for which are 100% funded by consumers. Many of these new lines are energized to just fractions of their full capacity, which illustrates how unnecessary they are; some of these lines don’t even have any customers. As well, electricity costs are higher in Alberta because the costs of constructing transmission infrastructure are inflated in Alberta – we pay higher new-line construction costs than almost anywhere else in North America.

In summary, Alberta’s electricity transmission and generation regulatory review processes are not “cumbersome and costly”, as Southern suggests; on the contrary, they are inadequate and ineffective. Alberta’s streamlined regulatory review processes are extremely industry-friendly, to the point where industry’s bottom line is highly favoured over Albertans’ health, safety, property values, electricity costs and environmental protection.

Three Killed When Hot Air Balloon Strikes Power Line

•May 13, 2014 • Comments Off on Three Killed When Hot Air Balloon Strikes Power Line

A hot air balloon struck a power line, caught fire and crashed into a wooded area in Caroline County, Virginia, killing the pilot and 2 passengers (Liberty VoiceUSA Today).

The balloon was participating in the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival May 9, 2014 when it hit a power line and the basket quickly burst into flames. There were 2 explosions, the second one severing the basket from the balloon.

Witnesses reported hearing prayers and screams for help from the basket. One of the occupants screamed, “Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I’m going to die. Oh my God, I’m going to die.” Two of the occupants either jumped or fell from the balloon’s basket, which was still very high in the air. Over 100 rescue workers searched for the burned bodies; the third body was not found until 2 days following the crash.

The pilot of a single-engine plane was killed April 22, 2014 near Garfield, Kansas when his plane crashed after striking power lines (Wichita Eagle). The pilot was crop-dusting a hay field for weevils.

Another hot air balloon crashed April 5, 2014 in Noblesville, Indiana after hitting power lines (WTHR 13). 2 of the 7 occupants were injured.

A hot air balloon carrying 16 people clipped power lines April 4, 2014 in Cumbria, northwest England, causing a flash and loud bang (North West Evening Mail). Fortunately, the pilot was able to land the balloon safely.

See Airplane, Helicopter and Hot Air Balloon Accidents Due to Overhead Power Lines for hundreds of similar accidents. These accidents could have been prevented if power lines were buried like all of our other utilities.

Opposition Grows to AltaLink’s Proposed Cooking Lake Overhead Transmission Line

•May 3, 2014 • Comments Off on Opposition Grows to AltaLink’s Proposed Cooking Lake Overhead Transmission Line

RETA no power line imageResidents along AltaLink’s northern proposed route for their Cooking Lake 138kV Transmission Line are becoming increasingly concerned about the negative effects of the line (Sherwood Park News 1Sherwood Park News 2). They are concerned that the line will have negative impacts on their health, safety, environment (including birds), property values, tourismaesthetics (visual), livestock, crops, and aircraft travel near the Cooking Lake Airport, to name but a few. If built along AltaLink’s proposed northern route, the power line would run along Highway 14 from Anthony Henday Drive East to a substation south of Cooking Lake.

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and AltaLink have suggested that the new 138kV transmission line is needed because “This area has grown significantly in recent years and the demand for electricity has increased.” Unfortunately, there are no statistics or other data to support this contention. In other words, this line is not necessary, but then many other transmission lines built in Alberta during the past few years have also not been necessary (e.g., Heartland Transmission Line, Western Alberta Transmission Line, Eastern Alberta Transmission Line, plus many others).

An overhead high voltage line along AltaLink’s proposed northern route would run right through the Bretona Pond Wetland Complex (a Buck-for-Wildlife Area) and right through the South Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area, both well-known for their large concentrations of waterfowl and many other bird species. It has been well-documented that many birds are killed crashing into overhead high voltage power lines. About 174 million birds are killed every year in the U.S., alone, crashing into power line conductors, shield wires and towers.

The northern route would also see the lines built close to the Cooking Lake Airport, active since 1926, which currently has about 10,000 aircraft movements every year. Overhead high voltage lines are a well-known hazard to aircraft.

In addition to the environmental and aircraft issues, all of the statistical data appear to point in favour of the southern proposed route in Leduc County: at least 1.3 kilometres shorter, at least 10 fewer towers required, much cheaper, and about 125 fewer directly and negatively affected homes within 800 metres of the transmission line. However, AltaLink and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) have never let the facts get in the way of where they end up locating new transmission lines in Alberta. Many of AltaLink’s overhead transmission lines are built too close to homes, schools, businesses, recreation areas and environmentally sensitive areas.

Strathcona County Councillors Linton Delainey (Ward 6) and Bonnie Riddell (Ward 7) have both expressed concerns about the proposed northern route for the Cooking Lake line. Delainey has encouraged Strathcona County residents to let AltaLink, the AUC, Mayor Roxanne Carr, their Councillor and their MLA know about their concerns. Delainey has also encouraged concerned County residents to attend an information meeting about the line:

Monday, May 5, 2014, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm

South Cooking Lake Seniors Activity Centre

Councillor Delainey has suggested that if Strathcona County residents don’t register their concerns about this proposed line, they will end up with another “Power Line Jungle”, just like the unsightly Heartland line which all County residents must now drive under to get to and from Edmonton.

As is the case with other new transmission lines being built in Alberta, or anywhere in the world for that matter, RETA strongly recommends burying the proposed Cooking Lake 138kV Transmission Line in order to eliminate the many negative impacts of an overhead line. If the line was buried, it wouldn’t be much of a concern to anyone, regardless of which route was selected.

RETA Bury the Lines Mural

Coal-Fired Electricity Heavily Subsidized by Albertans and It’s Killing Us

•April 21, 2014 • Comments Off on Coal-Fired Electricity Heavily Subsidized by Albertans and It’s Killing Us

Absurdly low royalty rates on coal in Alberta make it difficult for renewables to compete, and contribute every year to Albertans’ deaths and illness. That’s what Dr. Joe Vipond and Dr. Raquel Feroe wrote in this article in today’s Edmonton Journal.

RETA coal-fired power plant photoWe’ve known since last year’s A Costly Diagnosis was released by the Asthma Society of Canada, Lung Association of Alberta & NWT, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Pembina Institute, that Alberta burns more coal to produce electricity than all the other provinces put together. That report also indicated burning coal costs Alberta more than $300 million annually in health damages, contributes to the death of more than 100 Albertans annually, and causes 700 visits to emergency departments and more than 4,000 asthma attacks in the province each year.

What most Albertans are likely not aware of, however, is that the Government of Alberta levies one of the lowest royalty rates on coal in the world. Alberta’s coal royalty rate is only 55 cents/tonne. Saskatchewan and Montana have floating rates of 15%, which would translate into about $3/tonne. So Alberta charges industry one-fifth to one-sixth of what comparable neighbouring jurisdictions do. No wonder alternative sources of electricity generation, including renewables and even natural gas (depending on its price) have a tough time competing in Alberta.

This should make every Albertan angry considering that, since the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement of 1930, Albertans own all of the natural resources in our province, including mines and minerals (e.g., coal, oil and gas). The Alberta Government is supposed to manage these resources on our behalf and for the benefit of all Albertans. Well, it appears the primary beneficiary of coal extraction in our province is the coal mining and coal-fired electricity generation industry. One could say the Government of Alberta is almost giving coal away to the coal-fired electricity industry. Considering coal is a non-renewable resource, this means our provincial government is not doing a very good job of managing the financial return to Albertans….remember, from a constitutional perspective, you and I – as Albertans – own the coal.

Until the Alberta Government starts levying a fair royalty rate on coal, Albertans will continue to lose millions of dollars every year and our health will continue to be negatively affected by burning coal to produce electricity.

As Dr. Vipond and Dr. Feroe wrote, “We need to replace coal as a fuel for electricity generation and the logical choice is renewables, which are rapidly decreasing in cost, and have no health or climate effects. But how can renewable technologies like wind and solar power compete with a 19th-century fuel that is effectively subsidized by our government?”

AltaLink Line Criticized Over Environmental Impacts

•April 19, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Line Criticized Over Environmental Impacts

RETA Frank Lake AltaLink enviro damage photoAltaLink’s environmental practices are being questioned once again, this time by a local High River biologist who recently discovered AltaLink was not following normally-accepted construction practices to minimize environmental damage (High River Times). Greg Wagner, Principal and Senior Wildlife Biologist with Athene Environmental Ltd., discovered heavy track vehicles tearing up the ground along the alignment of AltaLink’s new high voltage transmission line near internationally-recognized Frank Lake.

Wagner 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.” He 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.

Frank Lake is an 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.

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. Wagner said Frank Lake is a major staging area for trumpeter swans, a “Threatened” species in Alberta, 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?” An AltaLink communications manager said, construction begins when scheduling allows it, and “…we have time lines to meet when we’re building major transmission projects”.

AltaLink has a history of being very cavalier about the impacts of their overhead transmission lines on the environment. 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.

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. More information on the environmental impacts of overhead high voltage transmission lines can be found at this link, this link and this link.

Albertans to Pay Even More for Power During Upcoming “Price Spike”

•April 18, 2014 • Comments Off on Albertans to Pay Even More for Power During Upcoming “Price Spike”

The Alberta Government Utilities Consumer Advocate is warning Albertans to brace themselves for an expected 30% to 40% spike in electricity prices in May (Calgary Herald). This will cost consumers in Canada’s only fully deregulated market millions of dollars; Albertans are already paying among the highest prices for power in the country.

RETA AESO logoThe price spike is triggered by the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which has announced several planned power plant outages and the shut down of a major 500kV line so it can be connected to AltaLink’s controversial new Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL). (One could certainly argue that whatever additional costs electricity consumers must pay for the 12 days over which this connection is to take place in May should be added to the cost of the WATL which is already over budget at $1.65 billion.)

RETA dollar sign image (smaller)NDP Leader Brian Mason said the situation is another example of how the deregulated electricity market, brought in by the P.C. government, doesn’t work in consumers’ interests. “It subjects them to sky-high prices and very volatile prices”, he said. Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said an energy-rich province like Alberta should have the lowest-cost electricity in the country, but instead it has among the highest. “The cost going up even more is very disconcerting. It’s going to hurt seniors. It’s going to hurt families”, he said. Wildrose Utilities Critic Joe Anglin said, “Without knowing any of the particulars, I can tell you there has to be a better way of doing this. They have created a false scenario that will cost consumers millions of dollars.”

A P.C. MLA Committee is supposed to be recommending changes to the retail electricity market to reduce price volatility, but it has still not reported to the Alberta Energy Minister, and is not expected to until the P.C.s have sorted out their leadership issue.

World Health Organization Unduly Influenced by Industry Again

•April 3, 2014 • Comments Off on World Health Organization Unduly Influenced by Industry Again

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Read this shocking expose on corruption within the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks, relating to scientific causality of harm to human health from electromagnetic radiation (EMR) (e.g., cell phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies). The article, written by Susan Foster, a medical writer, suggests the WHO and the media have been unduly influenced by the very powerful telecommunications industry to erroneously report no health concerns with EMR.

This is similar to the charge against the WHO by many credible scientists with respect to health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). For many years, the electricity transmission industry has unduly influenced the WHO not to recognize the negative health effects of overhead high voltage power line EMFs. Collusion between the WHO and the electricity transmission industry triggered the following quote from Dr. Don Maisch in 2006, “Such a blatant disregard for the fundamental principles of credible science as well as WHO’s mission on protecting world health speaks of a desperation to bury independent science at all costs, even if that cost is the integrity of WHO.” (Dr. Maisch is a well-known and respected scientist who has extensively researched health effects of EMFs and EMR.)

Once the electricity transmission industry had successfully influenced the WHO many years ago to suggest there is no conclusive evidence of EMFs negatively affecting human health, is it any wonder transmission companies then cite the WHO in an attempt to placate those who raise health concerns every time a new overhead high voltage power line is built?

See this link for more information on corruption within the WHO, including collusion with industry. See this link for information on the many negative health effects of overhead high voltage power lines.

AltaLink Misinforms Public about Power Line Health Effects

•March 31, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Misinforms Public about Power Line Health Effects

RETA Health hazard imageAltaLink continues to misinform Albertans about the health risks associated with overhead high voltage power lines.

Landowners and residents in Alberta who contact AltaLink regarding their concerns about the negative health effects of overhead transmission line electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are often directed to AltaLink’s website or provided with a video produced by AltaLink. AltaLink’s EMF Issues Manager is an electrical engineer who has no background in the biological or medical sciences, yet says in the AltaLink video there is nothing to worry about because there are EMFs everywhere, and overhead transmission lines are simply one more source of EMFs.

The AltaLink engineer then proceeds, in the video, to touch electrical appliances and other electrical sources with a gauss meter and shows there are high EMF levels emanating from these sources, in an attempt to suggest to the viewer that overhead transmission lines are no more hazardous to your health than these appliances. The fact is, when you move a very short distance (several inches)  from these appliances, the EMF readings quickly taper off, whereas harmful EMF levels persist up to several hundred metres (600 metres in some studies) from overhead high voltage power lines. As well, being exposed to the EMFs given off by an electrical appliance that is turned on for a short time is far less harmful than being exposed continuously to overhead transmission line EMFs over a prolonged period (years) near your home, place of work, school, hospital or any other place where people congregate for extended periods of time.

The engineer refers in passing to some studies that suggest a weak link between EMFs and childhood leukemia, but mentions nothing about hundreds of other studies that report causal correlations and conclusive links between overhead high voltage power line EMFs and adult and childhood leukemia, other cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, miscarriage, birth defects, depression, suicide, headaches, migraines, nausea, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbance, fatigue, persistent mental disorders, immune system deficiencies, electrical sensitivity symptoms, and the list goes on.

Nor does the AltaLink electrical engineer refer to any of the studies where world-renowned scientists such as Dr. Denis Henshaw say that high voltage power lines are linked “beyond reasonable doubt” to childhood leukemia, adult leukemia and adult brain tumours. Henshaw says there is only a one in a million chance that EMFs are not associated with adult leukemia, and that this link “passes any criteria in science for proof”.

In the video, the AltaLink engineer says that Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest there are no conclusive negative health effects of high voltage power line EMFs. Under heavy lobbying by the electricity transmission industry, both of these institutions have been reluctant to recognize the negative health impacts that scientists and doctors who are experts on the effects of EMFs have recognized for decades. Both Health Canada and the WHO have been heavily criticized by EMF health experts for protecting the transmission industry rather than protecting the health of people.

The AltaLink video does not even mention the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS), comprised of  impartial renowned EMF and health experts who have repeatedly criticized the WHO. The ICEMS has said there are negative health effects of EMFs on living matter that occurs at every level of investigation: molecular, cellular, animal and human (in vitro/in vivo/epidemiological). As well, the video does not refer to the ICEMS’s contention that the building of high voltage power lines should follow the Precautionary Principle which states when there are indications of possible adverse effects, though they remain uncertain, the risks from doing nothing may be far greater than the risks of taking action to control these exposures. The Precautionary Principle shifts the burden of proof from those suspecting a risk (e.g., residents near power lines) to those who discount it (e.g., transmission industry).

Nor does the AltaLink video mention the Bonneville Power Authority research which shows that one-half of the 323 human studies of EMF effects on leukemia, brain cancer, breast cancer, mental health and reproductive health report increased risks due to EMF exposure.

The electrical engineer also does not refer at all in the AltaLink video to the negative health risks of the overhead transmission line corona effect where pollutant-laden corona ions deposit in the lungs. A risk analysis conducted in one study suggested there were 200-400 excess cases of lung cancer mortality and 2,000-3,000 excess cases of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses and aggravated asthma and allergies among the 2.7 million people living within 400 metres of high voltage power lines in the U.K.

The video does not even mention that burying high voltage power lines can totally eliminate the negative effects of the electrical field component of EMFs, almost eliminate the negative health effects of the magnetic field component of EMFs through phase cancellation, and totally eliminate the negative health effects of the overhead line corona effect.

There are many other instances in the AltaLink video where EMF health research results are misrepresented, dismissed or downplayed. One of the real ironies within the video introduction is that AltaLink Senior VP Leigh Clarke states the discussion of EMFs, health effects and overhead transmission lines should be a balanced and accurate one; however, then the rest of the video proceeds to provide a very biased and inaccurate perspective on the subject, which essentially ignores the facts based on peer-reviewed scientific and medical studies.

RETA Overhead Power Line Video

•March 30, 2014 • Comments Off on RETA Overhead Power Line Video

During the past few months, some of our members and website followers have asked us to re-post the video we produced and released in Spring 2010, which summarized some of the negative impacts of overhead high voltage power lines. So…by popular demand, here is the link to the 3-minute RETA video and soundtrack.

It’s ironic, when we produced this video in early 2010, Strathcona County, Edmonton and Sturgeon County residents were told by AltaLink and EPCOR that the Heartland 500kV transmission line towers would be 60 metres (197 ft) tall – the towers that were built are actually up to 77 metres (253 ft) tall, the largest high voltage power line ever built in Alberta. We still have not been able to get an answer to our question, “Why did AltaLink, EPCOR, the AESO, the AUC and the Alberta Government insist they needed to build such a massive double circuit power line, when it has been energized to only 15% of its capacity, and there are no downstream customers for the dirty coal-fired electricity transmitted by the line?”

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More on TransAlta Electricity Price Manipulation

•March 27, 2014 • Comments Off on More on TransAlta Electricity Price Manipulation

The Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA) claims TransAlta’s alleged electricity price manipulation in 2010 and 2011 could have cost Alberta consumers between an extra $40 million and $140 million (Edmonton Journal). At the same time that TransAlta is accused to have intentionally driven power prices through the roof by deliberately shutting down power generation plants, the MSA estimates that TransAlta reaped $16 million in extra profits. If the Alberta Utilities Commission agrees that TransAlta is guilty of deliberate price hiking, TransAlta could be fined up to $1 million per day and forced to reimburse consumers and affected utilities for their costs. See this link for more details on the MSA’s claims against TransAlta.

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No One Wants AltaLink’s Overhead Power Lines

•March 25, 2014 • Comments Off on No One Wants AltaLink’s Overhead Power Lines

RETA AUC logoAs the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing into AltaLink’s proposed overhead high voltage power lines and Hazelwood substation continued last week in Red Deer, Innisfail area residents and farmers blasted AltaLink (Innisfail Province). A group of 24 families, known as the Wachter group, provided the AUC with many reasons why the overhead line and substation should not be built on or near their land.

The group spoke about 5-generation families along one of the proposed power line routes who wanted to protect their land. The new line and towers would blight the landscape; some residents would be sandwiched between 2 high voltage lines if this one was approved; property values would fall by as much as 30%; a new line would disturb wildlife including foxes, bald eagles and burrowing owls; possibly bring in clubroot contamination rendering crops unsellable; the humming noise from a new substation and overhead lines would be an annoyance; and there would be negative health effects from the overhead line electromagnetic fields (EMFs), including increased leukemia risks.

Group members went on to say there had been misrepresentations by AltaLink during the consultation process, improper consultation by AltaLink officials, forged landowner signature on a document AltaLink submitted to the AUC, and trespass by surveyors who had not been given permission to enter private land. One group member did not trust AltaLink to look after their rights-of-way. He had won a land damage small claims case against the company years ago, but said AltaLink has not paid the amount required by law.

See this link for more information on concerns about AltaLink’s proposed new high voltage lines in the Innisfail area.

RETA bullying imageThe types of concerns expressed by the Wachter group about AltaLink’s consultation process are fairly typical. RETA has been given similar accounts by many other landowners who have complained about AltaLink’s public consultation tactics, including intimidation, associated with other facility applications. RETA members have also witnessed such tactics directly at the 2011 AUC hearing on the overhead Heartland 500kV transmission line which has now been completed and energized. One such very serious incident is referenced at this link, where an AltaLink land agent actually threatened a landowner.

Overhead Power Lines Redford’s Legacy in Strathcona County

•March 21, 2014 • Comments Off on Overhead Power Lines Redford’s Legacy in Strathcona County

RETA Alison Redford photo 2Commenting on the resignation announcement by Premier Alison Redford on March 19, the recent Sherwood Park News editorial hit the nail on the head when it said, “Despite Redford’s proud speech of accomplishments in the lead-up to her resignation, her legacy in Strathcona County will be one of overhead power lines and the not-quite hospital.” The editorial is certainly accurate. We would simply add the overhead power line legacy to include PC MLAs David Quest and Cathy Olesen and former PC MLA Iris Evans, because it was not only Alison Redford who supported the overhead monster Heartland line, but Quest, Evans and Olesen did not support, in a meaningful way, opposition to the overhead line when Strathcona County residents needed their help the most.

The editorial goes on to say, “Yes, there are other projects happening right now, but they were mostly funded before Redford became premier (the Bethel Transit terminal, ring road) or as a result of something else (Fultonvale Elementary’s necessary renovations as parents pulled their kids from Colchester due to the aforementioned power line’s proximity).” The editorial hit the nail on the head again. Colchester Elementary School was forced to shut its doors in June 2013 because parents were not willing to risk their children’s health with the Heartland line being built only 140 metres from the school. A 500kV overhead high voltage power line that close would have subjected kindergarten to grade-6-aged children to abnormally high levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and pollutant-laden corona ions. The cost of shutting down Colchester School and renovating Fultonvale School to accommodate Colchester students cost Alberta taxpayers a minimum of $21 million. That money could have more than funded burying the Heartland line by Colchester School, thereby saving a respected and well-maintained school within our system at a time when new schools are dearly needed across the province.

As we have said on numerous occasions in the past, the overhead Heartland double-circuit 500kV high voltage power line, the largest ever built in our province, will go down in history as one of the PC Government’s, Alberta Electric System Operator’s and Alberta Utilities Commission’s biggest mistakes ever.

RETA Iris Evans photoRETA Dave Quest photoRETA Cathy Olesen photo

Corruption Claims Continue Against AltaLink’s Parent Company, SNC-Lavalin

•March 20, 2014 • Comments Off on Corruption Claims Continue Against AltaLink’s Parent Company, SNC-Lavalin

Mario Beauregard-Montreal Québec CanadaOver many years, Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin won major construction contracts in Libya worth billions of dollars. Further to the widely-reported close ties between the tyrannous Libyan Gadhafi family and SNC-Lavalin, new and astounding claims have recently been made by a former Executive Vice-President of SNC who has been jailed in Switzerland since April 2012 (CBC News). Riadh Ben Aissa has claimed in court documents that SNC put the wife of Saadi Gadhafi – one of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons – on its payroll in Morocco during Libya’s 2011 civil war to help her and Saadi’s children financially. This was done despite UN economic sanctions against Libya and Western military intervention.

RETA Gadhafi photoBen Aissa has also claimed that other senior SNC executives had a long history of lobbying the Gadhafi regime, doing favours for family members and funding junkets and lavish entertainment, including the following: former CEO Jacques Lamarre met Moammar Gadhafi several times to foster a lucrative relationship; Lamarre and another SNC executive tried to help Saadi Gadhafi get a visa from the Canadian Embassy in Tunis; SNC considered making Saadi Gadhafi a SNC VP; in 2008 SNC picked up Saadi Gadhafi’s tab for hotels, restaurants and limousines in Canada that totalled $2 million; SNC paid $550,000 for an exclusive night for Saadi Gadhafi and SNC employees to be entertained by rapper 50 Cent; and, SNC paid for a Toronto luxury condo for Saadi Gadhafi, including $200,000 for remodelling.

With respect to SNC’s activities in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission won’t complete its probe into a corruption conspiracy until Canada completes the trial of 3 Canadian SNC employees who allegedly tried to give bribes to Bangladesh officials in order to secure lucrative contracts to supervise the Padma Bridge project (The Daily StarProbe International). This probe, which has been ongoing since 2011, led the World Bank to issue an unprecedented 10-year ban on SNC-Lavalin and many of its affiliates from bidding on any World Bank-financed projects. The World Bank accused SNC of a “conspiracy to pay bribes and misrepresentations when bidding for Bank-financed contracts”. AltaLink was included in the list of SNC-owned companies banned by the World Bank.

RETA corruption imageTo date about 2 dozen former SNC executives, other senior staff and SNC agents, including former CEO Pierre Duhaime, are being investigated and/or have been charged with a variety of offences including: bribery, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, money-laundering, use of forged documents, participating in secret commissions, influencing foreign officials, making illegal political donations, bid-rigging or contract rigging. SNC-Lavalin and/or its former executives or agents are being or have been investigated in many countries, SNC has had contracts cancelled or has been banned from bidding in several countries, or SNC has been involved in allegedly questionable business practices in many countries including: Canada (e.g., Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland & RETA money-laundering imageLabrador), USA, Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, Panama, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Cambodia. As well, Swiss and French authorities have been investigating SNC. The engineering giant is being or has been sued by many parties including: investors over alleged misrepresentations of SNC’s financial status, former employees for alleged wrongful dismissals, other contractors, and by over 800 homeowners in Quebec.

See this link for more detailed information on corruption investigations of SNC-Lavalin. SNC is building AltaLink’s high voltage power lines in Alberta.

Heartland Power Line Supporter Resigns as Premier

•March 20, 2014 • Comments Off on Heartland Power Line Supporter Resigns as Premier

RETA Alison Redford resignation cartoon

Innisfail Says AltaLink’s Proposed Transmission Lines “Not Attractive”

•March 19, 2014 • Comments Off on Innisfail Says AltaLink’s Proposed Transmission Lines “Not Attractive”

RETA Innisfail town logo sunCraig Teal, the Town of Innisfail’s Director of Planning & Operational Services, says high voltage power lines are “not attractive” (aka ugly). Teal testified at an Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing on AltaLink’s proposed 80L high voltage transmission line that would run through Innisfail (Innisfail Province). Specifically, Teal said, “We object to the route in the south end of town as transmission lines are not attractive, and we want to ensure we are able to attract investment and interest from businesses…Transmission line land competes with residential development.” Teal also raised concerns about a new transmission line decreasing property values and resulting in lower tax revenues for the town. He suggested an alternate route through a planned industrial area would have lower visual impacts than the route through a residential area.

See this link for more information on concerns about AltaLink’s proposed new line. If the line was buried, there would be no negative visual or property value impacts.

Animals Frightened by Overhead Power Lines – New Research

•March 17, 2014 • Comments Off on Animals Frightened by Overhead Power Lines – New Research

RETA reindeer imageThanks to one of our followers for bringing new research to our attention that suggests animals around the world are scared away from overhead power lines because they give off ultra-violet (UV) flashes invisible to humans (BBC News). The flashes, or corona, occur when charge builds up in an overhead electricity transmission line conductor and is released into the air. An international team of scientists has determined that most mammals – but not humans – can see, and are sensitive to, UV light.

Reindeer in the arctic will avoid overhead transmission lines and keep as much as 5 km (3 miles) away from either side of the lines. One of the lead scientists on this research, Prof. Glen Jeffery, has found that almost 40 mammal species are sensitive to UV light and said, “Most mammals will let some (UV light) into their eye.”

Prof. Nicholas Tyler, another of the lead research scientists, said, “As a result of this work, we now consider them (overhead transmission lines) as chains of flashing light stretching across the tundra in the winter darkness, and that’s why the animals find them offensive.” Tyler added the random and unpredictable nature of these flashes were particularly problematic, as the animals could not easily adapt to them. The researchers indicated, since coronas “happen on all power lines everywhere”, the avoidance of the flashes could be having a global impact on wildlife. This research may well also explain why livestock including dairy cattle, beef cattle, horses, pigs and sheep are stressed near overhead transmission lines.

As new research continues to uncover mechanisms to explain why humans, wildlifepets and livestock are negatively impacted by overhead power lines (health and behaviour), the important question is, “What will governments, health agencies and the transmission industry do to address these impacts?” To date, very little has been done to reduce the number of overhead transmission lines being built around the world. RETA continues to advocate for burying high voltage power lines to eliminate the negative impacts of above-ground lines.

Overhead High Voltage Transmission Lines Rejected

•March 15, 2014 • Comments Off on Overhead High Voltage Transmission Lines Rejected

RETA Southern Calif Edison  logoOn March 13, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) rejected Southern California Edison’s (SCE) controversial power line project that would have cut through habitat for endangered species and a rural greenbelt that separates Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley (Ventura Edhat). Strong opposition from environmental groups and the local community and reduced energy demand led the CPUC to instead approve a much-scaled-down proposal to upgrade existing substations.

RETA environmental impact imageThe $55 million Presidential Substation Project including a new substation and a series of new high voltage lines would have cut across the Tierra Rejada greenbelt and negatively affected community farms, rural communities, and critical habitat for endangered species such as the California gnatcatcher, Riverside fairy shrimp and yellow-flowering Lyon’s pentachaeta (aster family). The greenbelt also serves as an important wildlife linkage that connects the Santa Monica Mountains to the inland ranges and the Santa Clara River.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization, responded to the CPUC decision by saying, “Less costly and less destructive substation upgrades were developed and analyzed during environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires analysis and adoption of environmentally superior alternatives wherever feasible. By choosing the environmentally superior solution, the California Public Utilities Commission avoided the harms protested by the environmental groups and local communities and reduced project costs.”

The CPUC is to be congratulated for rejecting SCE’s initial proposal, and instead approving a much more environmentally-friendly proposal. We certainly do not see such decisions in Alberta, where the Alberta Government, transmission industry and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) consistently ignore environmental impacts of proposed new high RETA Heartland transmission project logovoltage power lines. In 2008, the Alberta Government exempted all newly-constructed high voltage transmission lines from having to undergo Environmental Impact Assessments, and the AUC has approved many overhead transmission lines that have been built in environmentally sensitive areas across Alberta (e.g., AltaLink’s Pincher Creek line, AltaLink’s and EPCOR’s Heartland line).

Transmission Companies Must Mitigate Power Line Impacts

•March 14, 2014 • Comments Off on Transmission Companies Must Mitigate Power Line Impacts

RETA Sunzia Poject logo

U.S. Representative Steve Pearce has said it’s up to SunZia to mitigate concerns about its proposed high voltage power line which would cross the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Department of Defense (DOD) and a recent study indicate the $1.2 billion project could interfere with missile tests and result in a reduced mission or otherwise endanger the range. The missile range is essential to U.S. national security. Pearce noted that the study confirmed several problems: vertical obstruction of missile tests because of the height of the proposed power lines, debris falling on the lines if a missile fails, and electromagnetic interference from transmission infrastructure.

RETA dollars in money bag imageSunzia appears to want the U.S. military to make a number of operational adjustments in order to accommodate the proposed high voltage line. An Albuquerque Journal editorial agrees with Pearce that Sunzia must mitigate the DOD’s concerns “…because it is the private power line company that wants to encroach on land that has long been used for White Sands missions, not the other way around”. The missile range must be protected and, as the editorial continues, “That should not be sacrificed for a few private business interests hoping to make a pile of money at taxpayers’ expense.” The DOD would not have to make adjustments, even if they were feasible, “…if Sunzia would agree to bury all or parts of the line across the call-up zone”.

Sunzia’s proposal includes building 2 parallel 500kV transmission lines on towers 200 feet tall for a minimum of 500 miles from New Mexico and Arizona to power hungry customers in California. See this link for more details and concerns.

Sunzia’s suggestion that the DOD could simply make some adjustments to accommodate a new power line is typical of the transmission industry’s attitude. In spite of existing and/or historic land uses, transmission companies automatically assume that it’s in the best public interest for ugly overhead high voltage power lines and towers to criss-cross the countryside and negatively affect other land uses, aircraft, the environment, property values, viewscapes, safety, health, tourism, agriculture, and pipelines (to name a few). It’s about time more politicians stand up for their constituents’ concerns about all of these overhead power lines, like U.S. Representative Steve Pearce has done. And, it’s about time transmission companies started burying more power lines to eliminate the negative impacts of overhead lines.

Building Power Lines in 21st Century with 20th Century Technology

•March 7, 2014 • Comments Off on Building Power Lines in 21st Century with 20th Century Technology

Daniel Mackay, director of public policy for the Preservation League of New York State, was recently quoted as asking, “…why do utility companies seek to continue to build utility grids in the 21st century with 20th-century technology? Where is the innovation, such as more efficient cables, or underground lines, that are in use in other locations?” RETA New York State Electric & Gas logo(Metroland) Although Mackay was speaking specifically about New York State Electric & Gas’ proposed new overhead Columbia County Transmission Project, his comment certainly applies to the tens of thousands of other overhead power lines being built by transmission companies all over the world.

The  NYSEG high voltage line would traverse a number of towns in New York including: Ghent, Claverack, Stuyvesant and Clermont. A grassroots RETA Protect Ghent logoadvocacy group, Protect Ghent, was formed in 2012 to oppose the overhead line and to provide potentially affected residents with information. The group advocates for the preservation of Ghent’s scenic rural character, and for viable alternatives to overhead high voltage power lines.

Protect Ghent points out the proposed 115kV line would bisect multigenerational farmsteads and woods and streams, and mar the region’s picturesque viewshed. The line would negatively affect agriculture, tourism, over 100 historic houses and structures, conservation areas including wildlife sanctuaries, a thoroughbred horse and cattle farm, real estate prices, and economic investments based on unique community character. As well, the line is expected to decrease forest cover, disturb wetlands and reduce farm-production capabilities. Residents are also worried about private land seizure by eminent domain (expropriation).

Visit the Protect Ghent website for more information. Best wishes to the group as they battle the proposed overhead Columbia County Transmission Project.

Poll: Albertans Don’t Want Coal-Fired Electricity

•March 6, 2014 • Comments Off on Poll: Albertans Don’t Want Coal-Fired Electricity

RETA coal-fired power plant photoA recent 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 (Edmonton Journal). And, 80% of those surveyed want renewable energy used to generate power instead of coal. Of the 750 Albertans polled in February, 76% believe government should encourage businesses to use renewable energy, and 74% believe coal should be phased out if alternatives exist. Two-thirds of Albertans are willing to pay higher prices for electricity generated by wind and solar power.

The poll was commissioned by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Earlier last year, the Physicians for the Environment, Lung Association and Asthma Society of Canada released a significant research report, “A Costly Diagnosis”, that revealed alarming health impacts of pollution from Alberta’s coal-fired power plants. The research found that pollution from coal-fired power plants results in $300 million in medical costs and contributes to 100 premature deaths in Alberta each year. Emissions from coal-fired electricity plants in Alberta cause asthma sufferers to miss 4,800 days of work and school and prompts 700 emergency-room visits from patients seeking treatment for respiratory and cardiovascular ailments each year.

RETA asthma imageThe 2013 research report indicated that in 2011, coal-fired power plants emitted 45% of Alberta’s output of mercury, 33% of its sulphur dioxide, 10% of its nitrogen oxides and 6% of its fine particulate matter. These pollutants exacerbate symptoms of asthma, negatively affect neurological and lung development, and also result in increased cardiac disease.

Referring to the recent poll results, the executive director of the physicians’ group said, “There is scientific agreement that coal makes people sick. What I find interesting about this poll is that people in Alberta agree with the scientific community.” Unfortunately, the Alberta Government continues to bury its head on the matter. Alberta’s Associate Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy, Donna Kennedy-Glans, recently said that industry and the provincial government have not established a connection between coal-fired power plant emissions and health. While the Alberta Government refuses to accept scientific research and is dragging its heels on power generation, other provinces have already transitioned, or are quickly transitioning, to cleaner, safer and more-environmentally friendly power generation alternatives.

See this link for more information on the negative impacts of coal-fired power generation.

TransAlta Executives Approved Intentional Power Plant Shutdowns to Increase Profits

•March 5, 2014 • Comments Off on TransAlta Executives Approved Intentional Power Plant Shutdowns to Increase Profits

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RETA MSA logoRETA dollar sign image (smaller)According to documents filed with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), 3 top TransAlta executives approved the strategy of deliberately shutting down its power plants during peak periods of demand to drive up electricity prices for millions of dollars in profits. To make matters worse, company officials congratulated each other about how well the strategy was working.

The Alberta Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA) has claimed that, in 2010 and 2011, TransAlta Corp. “undermined the integrity of the Alberta wholesale electric energy market by engaging in anti-competitive conduct.” The MSA claims that on 4 occasions involving 6 of its power plants, TransAlta’s “…corporate strategy entailed improperly timing discretionary outages in order to maximize TransAlta’s profits in both the power pool and the forward market, while impairing the fair, efficient and openly competitive operation of the market.” When TransAlta took its plants off-line, it left their competitors scrambling to purchase electricity from other sources at a price often higher than what they were selling to its customers. TransAlta has refused to release about 850 documents related to the allegations, claiming they are privileged.

At the same time, the MSA is seeking to ban a former TransAlta employee and a current employee from energy trading in relation to the charges against TransAlta. Last year, one of the employees was fined $15 million for allegedly manipulating electricity prices in California and other western U.S. markets.

Canada’s only fully deregulated electricity market has been widely criticized in Alberta, where customers pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country. Wildrose Utilities Critic Joe Anglin said Alberta’s system is “…a complete disaster” ; however, Premier Redford continues to defend the embattled deregulated system. Anglin went on to say, “I’m Railroaded ethics imagesaying it is not right to gouge Albertans – and they know it’s wrong.” NDP Leader Brian Mason has little faith in the MSA investigation or the AUC’s ability to adjudicate the TransAlta matter, saying, “They are basically trying to manage a system that’s virtually unmanageable.” Liberal Energy Critic, Kent Hehr, said, “This is ridiculous to allow corporations to be gouging Albertans on their power bills.” Even a Tory backbencher, Ken Lemke,  said his constituents want to know “What the heck is going on?”

Joe Anglin has called for the RCMP to investigate TransAlta’s alleged manipulation of the deregulated system, arguing that the MSA’s allegations are in effect allegations of fraud, theft and destruction of evidence, all of which are criminal in nature. PC Associate Minister of Electricity, Donna Kennedy-Glans, responded weakly by saying she wants the AUC to hear the case and “We cannot prejudice the outcome of this case.” TransAlta has denied the allegations, and took out expensive full-page advertisements today in Alberta newspapers, in an attempt to defend itself.

Sources for this story include: Edmonton Journal 1Edmonton Journal 2Edmonton Journal 3Calgary HeraldEdmonton Journal 4. (TransAlta was fined $370,000 in November 2011 by the MSA for breaking market rules, which most Albertans thought was just a “slap on the wrist”, considering the estimated cost of TransAlta’s infraction to consumers in that case was a whopping $5.5 million.)

AltaLink Power Line Kills More Birds – Update

•March 1, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Power Line Kills More Birds – Update

About 100 more birds have been found killed by AltaLink’s new high voltage power line near Pincher Creek (Calgary Herald). The birds were found last week by an AltaLink contractor.

This most recent report follows closely on the heels of an investigation that found 345 dead birds in the same area that were killed by the same power line over an extended period of time between November and early January. In both cases, the majority of the birds killed were ducks. Local retired research scientist David McIntyre is concerned and said these bird deaths are more common than are being revealed to the public. He said the most troubling issue is that the overhead line was built in the area in the first place.

“The big thing that makes these register in this particular place is the fact that there are roughly 10,000 waterfowl right in that area and they are right next to a major highway,” McIntyre said. “They tell us how they won’t go into areas where there are high waterfowl concentrations to avoid this type of thing. How could they not see what every person who travels Highway 3 would see in spades? There are thousands of waterfowl and the transmission lines that are being put up are right between the resting place for those ducks and where they feed.”

AltaLink appears to be trying to blame these most recent bird deaths on a major weather event, as they did with the first 345 birds killed. This time they are also investigating “the eagles and their ability to, for lack of a better word, frighten the ducks into a particular situation,” said an AltaLink public relations spokesperson. AltaLink also said they are installing larger diverters that should help deflect the birds. The fact is, AltaLink does not want to admit that their new line was built in a totally inappropriate location and that birds will continue to kill themselves crashing into their lines and towers at this site. As well, transmission companies like AltaLink have been espousing the benefits of bird diversion techniques for years, but results to date have been questionable and of very limited success. As has been suggested earlier, the line should have been buried, if indeed the line was necessary in the first place.

As the Pincher Creek Echo recently pointed out, other corporations have been fined for killing birds. For example, Syncrude was fined $3.2 million in 2010 for killing at least 1,600 waterfowl in their Fort McMurray tar sands tailings ponds in 2008. Based on the death toll to date of birds killed by the new Pincher Creek high voltage line, AltaLink is clearly in violation of the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act which prohibits the killing or destroying of migratory birds. Waterfowl, such as those killed by AltaLink, are migratory bird species. AltaLink should be charged and fined accordingly.

For more information on the history of this particular tragedy, see this link. See this Fact Sheet for more information on bird deaths, in general, caused by overhead high voltage power lines. This link provides information on the benefits of burying high voltage lines.

RETA bird deaths photo snc

Overhead Power Lines Linked “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” to Childhood and Adult Leukemia

•February 24, 2014 • Comments Off on Overhead Power Lines Linked “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” to Childhood and Adult Leukemia

RETA Health hazard imageDr. Denis Henshaw, retired and world-renowned professor of human radiation effects at the University of Bristol, U.K., recently told a public gathering of about 400 people in Trim, County Meath, Ireland that overhead high voltage power lines are strongly linked with leukemia (Irish Times). Specifically, he said high voltage cables are linked “beyond reasonable doubt” to childhood leukemia, adult leukemia and adult brain tumours. He also said there is “very strong evidence” to link high voltage power lines with Alzheimer’s disease and increased risk of miscarriage. Dr. Henshaw is a scientific director of the charity Children with Cancer U.K.

Professor Henshaw said there was only a one in a million chance that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) were not associated with adult leukemia. He said the link “passes any criteria in science for proof”.

Dr. Henshaw went on to state that a study carried out in the U.K.  into overground cables carried by pylons (towers) concluded the costs of undergrounding more than matched the health costs associated with overhead lines. He said all living creatures are affected by EMFs and the evidence of adverse effects on human health has increased in recent years. “If they are buried, you are strongly mitigating against these emissions and the fields associated with power lines”, he said. “From a health perspective, and only from a health perspective, my advice is to avoid the exposure and bury them in populated areas.”

Dr. Henshaw has also conducted research on the health risks associated with the overhead high voltage power line corona effect. A risk analysis conducted by Dr. Henshaw in 2002 suggested that 200 to 400 excess cases of lung cancer mortality and 2,000 to 3,000 excess cases of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses and aggravated asthma and allergies may occur annually among the 2.7 million people living within 400m of high voltage power lines in the U.K.

See this link for more information on the many negative health effects of overhead high voltage power lines, and this link for the many benefits of burying them.

Negative Impacts of Overhead Power Lines Highlighted in Vue Weekly

•February 22, 2014 • Comments Off on Negative Impacts of Overhead Power Lines Highlighted in Vue Weekly

The February 12, 2014 issue of Vue Weekly contained an article by Rebecca Medel, “Hanging by a Wire”, which included interviews with John Kristensen of RETA and David McIntyre, a Pincher Creek area scientist who recently exposed the death of hundreds of waterfowl killed by one of AltaLink’s newly constructed overhead high voltage power lines in southern Alberta. We thought the subject matter of the article important enough to reprint it in its entirety on our website:

Hanging by a wire

Overhead power lines dominate the Alberta landscape, but their safety is called into question

February 12, 2014, Rebecca Medel           Vue Weekly
Issue: #956: Hanging by a wire

RETA VueWeekly image                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Jasmine Abbey

For Albertans, emotions can get electrically charged when the topic of overhead versus buried power lines is brought up. There’s 25,000 km of line strung across the province. Why should this be an issue when electricity is regarded as a clean form of energy and very few of us have stepped off the grid in the past 100 years?

For some, the issue stems from the transmission towers and lines blocking the view and the accompanying loss of property value. Some farmers don’t like the thought of the lines being set up on their land and interfering with their farming operations. Others think high-voltage transmission lines have a negative impact on health, and some are shocked at the number of birds that are killed annually due to collisions with the lines.

John Kristensen, biologist and vice president of Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, along with his wife, moved from their home in Bretona Pond in June after the Heartland Transmission Line was built. They had lived there since the ‘70s and took a considerable financial loss on their home and five acres of surrounding property due to the new line, but felt the move was worth it as they had researched the negative effects of living near a high-voltage power line.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize the power companies very smugly say, ‘Well if you don’t like the power lines, move,’” Kristensen says. “Well, lots of people have, so maybe that’s good. The downside is, there’s a property devaluation and loss that goes along with that.”

The Kristensens’ decision was made after plenty of consultation with the transmission companies and a hearing with the Alberta Utilities Commission to offer their reasons why the high-voltage line should be buried.

“But if you could believe it, AltaLink and Epcor tried to have me dismissed as an expert witness because I had a vested interest because I was the vice president of RETA,” Kristensen says. “They actually made a big case in front of the AUC, which took several hours of arguing that I was a biased individual making a submission and therefore I could not be considered an expert.”

The reason Kristensen has been fighting with AltaLink for the past few years about not building the Heartland line above ground and was involved in creating RETA in 2009, is because he doesn’t think the electromagnetic field that surrounds high-voltage transmission lines is healthy. RETA’s website cites numerous studies that link exposure to the lines to Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, behaviour and mental disorders, birth defects, brain cancer, breast cancer, dementia, depression and suicide, fatigue, headaches, heart problems, intestinal cancer, leukemia, lymph cancer, miscarriage, nausea, sexual dysfunction and sleep disorders, among others.

Kristensen says the negative impacts wouldn’t affect someone driving under an overhead line every day to and from work. It’s those who live next to, work next to and go to school next to the lines that may experience negative impacts.

“The electromagnetic field has two parts to it: an electric field and a magnetic field. The electric field is entirely eliminated when you bury the line and that’s through shielding by the soil,” Kristensen says. “The magnetic field is decreased tremendously because the closer you lay electricity conductors—the lines that the electricity flows through … it’s called phase cancellation; they cancel each other out.”

Kristensen says the lines are usually laid in groups of three below ground and the magnetic field running through one line is cancelled by the one next to it.

“Whereas when you hang conductors (wires) from towers, the power companies have to spread them far enough apart so that when they sway in the wind, they won’t slam into each other, nor will they hit the tower,” Kristensen explains. “By spreading those lines so far apart, now you eliminate most of the magnetic field cancellation that takes place if you lay them only a few inches apart underneath the ground. So that’s why the magnetic field is so much higher above ground than underground.”

But AltaLink’s external engagement director Scott Schreiner says the electromagnetic field exists on both underground and overhead lines, so burying the lines won’t necessarily be a safer alternative. He says the magnetic fields are not actually stopped by being buried.

“They go through ground, they go through cement, they go through everything. They aren’t stopped because they’re buried,” he explains.

Schreiner says the ground and insulation around the lines doesn’t stop the magnetic field. He says grouping them underground can reduce the width of the field, but the strength directly above these lines may be higher than even overhead lines.

“It’s important to remember that EMF is everywhere, whether it’s from the clock radio next to your bed, from the computer that you’re probably sitting in front of right now, the lights on in your office, EMF is everywhere,” Schreiner says. “The fields that are produced by power lines are very low and they dissipate very, very quickly, to the point that once you’re 150 to 200 metres away from almost every power line, the field is so small that you wouldn’t be able to specifically determine where it’s coming from.”

Kristensen doesn’t disagree that EMFs emanate from buried lines, but says they taper off fast when you move a few steps to either side. He is concerned that overhead lines still get EMF readings a couple hundred metres on either side of the line and he points out that the electric field is eliminated when buried.

“The other thing that is totally eliminated is this corona effect,” Kristensen says. He explains that positive corona ions are created around overhead power lines through the electric current and this cloud of positively charged corona ions moves with the wind or circles around the wire if there is no wind.

“Those corona ions in and of themselves aren’t necessarily harmful to you and I,” Kristensen says. “But when they attach themselves to diesel exhaust or any other aerial pollutants that are floating around in the air … they positively charge the diesel fuel molecule and now when you inhale that positively charged molecule, it sticks to the alveoli of your lungs 10 times as much as if they were not positively charged.”

In Alberta, underground lines are typically found in densely populated areas where there’s a lack of land available. In 2008, Epcor buried a line in downtown Edmonton from Castle Downs to Victoria Composite High School.

AltaLink relies on the research of Health Canada, the World Health Organization and decades worth of studies that have been done on the potential effects of magnetic fields on plants or animals and Schreiner says the conclusion is that it’s perfectly fine for people to be near high-voltage power lines.

However, a look at WHO’s website regarding static magnetic fields shows: “It is not possible to determine whether there are any long-term health consequences even from exposure in the millitesla range because, to date, there are no well-conducted epidemiological or long-term animal studies. Thus the carcinogenicity of static magnetic fields to humans is not at present classifiable (IARC, 2002).”

WHO’s website also states that few studies have been carried out regarding static electric fields and while body hair movement and discomfort from spark discharges have been noted, chronic or delayed effects have not been properly investigated.

Then there’s the issue of dead birds. Just before Christmas, scientist David McIntyre, who sits on the board of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and spent two decades as a study leader for the Smithsonian Institution leading tours to national parks and equivalent reserves all over the North American west, started receiving messages about hundreds of dead ducks that had been found beneath a new high voltage transmission line in Pincher Creek.

“So many dead ducks were in the road that when the snowplow was going through, it was just plowing the dead ducks,” McIntyre says, noting that no transmission line runs over that stretch of Highway 785 so the ducks were hitting the line west of that spot and following a trajectory into the road.

It’s an interesting fact, because usually when counts of birds that die due to collision with power lines are done, the birds counted are the ones just below the line.

“Lots of birds don’t get killed right off the bat,” Kristensen says. “They’ll hit the line, fall to the ground and they’re maimed. Now they crawl around and they will either die later or they’ll be predated on by coyotes, foxes or a bunch of aerial predators like hawks and eagles and owls and so on.”

Kristensen says that studies that count birds killed by lines low ball the number as many birds land elsewhere or are scavenged before they can be counted. A North Dakota study estimated 124 birds killed per kilometre per year, one in Holland estimated 214 birds per kilometre and the US Wildlife Service estimated that 174 million birds are killed every year by high-voltage lines in the United States—far more than are killed by hunters—but Kristensen says all of those numbers are too low.

So when McIntyre made a trip into Pincher Creek from his home about half an hour away in CrowsnestPass a week or so later, many birds had already been scavenged.

“I was only at the site where the ducks were killed for about 10 minutes, but I saw seven different eagles at the sight at that time, and one of them was carrying off a dead duck,” McIntyre says. “We know there were at least hundreds of ducks killed and we know that there were a few other bird species as well, we don’t really know the full picture of things because weeks went by with seemingly and almost certainly a really large number of scavengers on that landscape.”

McIntyre was shocked that so many people were aware of the dead ducks and yet it wasn’t reported.

“Apparently no one reported it to AltaLink,” McIntyre says. “That’s conjecture on my part, but I’ve talked to a couple of AltaLink and one Stantec biologist and they say they didn’t know about the story until it broke I think on January 7.”

AltaLink sent experts to the site to investigate the situation.

“We had a team on site the next day and have been working to understand what may have happened in that particular circumstance,” Schreiner says. “What we’ve found during our investigation and understanding some of the weather that we saw in December is that over a few days in December there was extreme high winds, extreme low visibility in the Pincher Creek area, winds ranging up to 135 km an hour that made it obviously challenging for birds to see the lines and to be able to avoid the lines in flight.”

Schreiner says they’ve never experienced an event like this before along any of AltaLink’s 12,000 km of power lines across the province.

“However, any aerial facility—it’s not just power lines, it could be cellphone towers, it could be a skyscraper, it could be a house—any aerial facility presents an obstacle to birds,” he says.

He also points out that AltaLink was the first utility in Canada to develop and implement an avian protection plan to understand where there may be higher risk areas and to install bird diverters on the lines to make them more visible to birds.

“Obviously AltaLink goes to great lengths to talk about their record, their commitment, how they prevent bird collisions and never put lines in places where waterfowl or other species would be at risk,” McIntyre says. “What I would say seems to happen, and I don’t have a huge study sample, but here we’ve got 10,000 wintering waterfowl, roughly 5,000 mallards and 5,000 Canada geese and maybe a few other duck species to boot and we have 10,000 birds that this line is strung right between where they rest by night and where they go by day to feed.”

McIntyre doesn’t understand why transmission companies continue to erect transmission lines in areas where waterfowl and other bird species typically congregate, not to mention the eyesore the towers themselves are as they block the “heart and soul view of rangeland going into spectacular mountain backdrop.”

The reason for overhead lines, according to the transmission companies, is cost.

“They say it costs in the order of six times more to go underground than it does to go overhead,” McIntyre says. “I have talked to contractors and the standard answer that I get from every single contractor with whom I discuss this is that it costs approximately 30 percent more, not 600 percent.”

Regarding the Heartland line, Schreiner says it would have cost exponentially more to bury even some of the line.

“It would have increased the cost on that project approximately 500 million dollars to bury a 22 km section, Schreiner points out. “For that little section of line we’re talking seven times to 10 times the cost of an overhead system.”

Kristensen remembers things a bit differently and says in the beginning AltaLink and Epcor said the cost of burying would be four to 20 times as much, but after a lot of consideration, they calculated it would only cost 1.7 times as much to bury one third of the Heartland line through the most densely populated area.

“And that’s only based on the capital cost, in other words, the cost to build,” Kristensen says. “When you add in the much higher costs to maintain overhead lines and the much higher costs of transmission loss, that is, electricity to heat, over the life of the line, which is maybe 50 to 65 years … that’s when buried lines are cheaper than overhead lines and isn’t that what we should be looking at? Shouldn’t we be looking at the total cost of above ground and underground rather than just what it costs to build?”

In 2009, RETA commissioned a Leger Marketing poll to ask Albertans about power lines. Approximately 70 percent of the study sample felt power lines should be buried when they were around homes, schools and daycares.

“And the average person who was polled, there were 900 Albertans who were polled, was willing to pay an average of $3.55 more per month on their power bill to get the lines buried,” Kristensen says. “We calculated that to bury one third of the Heartland line it would have cost the average Albertan a cup of coffee a year.”

This information was presented at the AUC hearing but Kristensen says RETA always got labelled as an anti-development group and that’s just not the case.

“All of us on the board, and we’ve got about 10,000 members now, everybody uses electricity and we don’t want to stop using electricity, it’s just we can keep using electricity and we can do it smarter and not have all these negative effects and that’s why we really push hard on burying.”

AltaLink Continues to Mislead Public About Bird Deaths

•February 2, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Continues to Mislead Public About Bird Deaths

RETA AltaLink duck deaths imageIn follow up to earlier RETA posts about one of AltaLink’s overhead high voltage power lines near Pincher Creek killing birds, AltaLink continues to mislead the public by suggesting the recent bird deaths are an isolated incident (Pincher Creek VoiceEdmonton Journal).

Following the revelation in early January by David McIntyre of dozens of dead ducks found underneath a new AltaLink high voltage power line north of Pincher Creek, AltaLink launched an investigation and found 345* birds killed along a short stretch of the line. Most (244) of the birds were mallards and 1 was a gray partridge. AltaLink has attributed the bird collision deaths to severe weather conditions, and an AltaLink public relations spokesperson said, “Our indication is that it’s an isolated incident”.

However, local retired scientist David McIntyre disagreed with AltaLink’s story, pointing out,“These ducks had died in multiple incidents over a period of time. They didn’t die in one incident.” He was also quoted as saying, “It’s crystal clear to me it was multiple collisions. There may have been many incidents. Unless it lands on someone’s doorstep, we may never hear about it.”  

In support of McIntyre’s assertion that this was not an isolated incident as erroneously suggested by AltaLink, the Pincher Creek Voice received numerous reports from other local individuals who had seen dead birds near the new power line over a 2-month period. Tina Jay Spear said, “It’s such a sad sight to see. Every day on my way to work. There seems to be more and more each time. We saw a lot throughout November and December. We thought one day it was raining birds, on one of our drives a couple of ducks fell right in front of us as we were driving. Scared me, what a sight to see.” Dylon Barber wrote, “I remember driving to the Heritage acres area in December and seeing all the dead ducks too. They were all over the place.” Patrick Bad-Eagle said, “The other day me and my wife were driving by there going home, we seen over 12 dead birds alongside the ditch.” Robert Dale Plante wrote, “I drive past there everyday going to and from work, this has been going on since late November. the ducks are down in the valley and they fly up the coulees. Once they come up over the road hwy 785 on extremely windy days, they get blown back into the power lines. Everyday we have +70 km/hr winds you will see the dead ducks. This has not been one or two events, this is a daily issue on extremely windy days.”

RETA golden eagle imageMcIntyre was also concerned about the impact of the new line on eagle migrations in spring when “thousands of Golden Eagles migrate up the crest of the Livingstone Range”. He suggests eagles will be attracted to dead ducks as a food source, “And now it’s more than a dead duck issue”. He said the line shouldn’t have been built in the area in the first place, considering there are thousands of waterfowl that fly back and forth between the Oldman River and adjacent grainfields, right across the path of AltaLink’s new high voltage lines. McIntyre went on to suggest AltaLink needs to start looking at underground lines.

This particular story is a good example of the extent to which overhead high voltage power lines kill birds, and the extent to which transmission companies such as AltaLink (and its environmental consultant Stantec) will downplay the significance of the impacts of overhead high voltage lines on birds and other elements of the environment. AltaLink and Stantec were warned, before the line was built, about the impacts of the new line on birds in the Oldman River area, but chose to ignore those warnings.

RETA environmental impact imageAltaLink and Stantec consistently ignore environmental data and potential impacts of overhead lines on birds…but then why not? As of 2008, the Alberta Government no longer requires formal Environmental Impact Assessments for any high voltage power lines built in Alberta. This is referred to as the “Alberta Advantage”…at least for the electricity transmission industry.

See this link for more information on the negative impacts of overhead power lines on the environment, and this link for the benefits, including cost, of burying the lines.

*It is a well known fact that dead bird counts underneath power lines are an underestimate of the actual number of bird deaths because many birds that hit overhead high voltage lines end up falling to the ground some distance from the power line, other birds injured as they collide with lines crawl away and die somewhere else, many birds killed are eaten by predators before they can be counted, and many dead birds are simply not found due to ground cover. All of these factors consistently result in underestimates of the actual number of birds killed by colliding with overhead power lines.

Update on Corruption at AltaLink’s Parent Company, SNC-Lavalin

•February 1, 2014 • Comments Off on Update on Corruption at AltaLink’s Parent Company, SNC-Lavalin

Mario Beauregard-Montreal Québec CanadaCorruption charges continue to dog AltaLink’s parent company, Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin. And, more government officials are commenting publicly on how the Canadian and world-wide corruption investigations of SNC-Lavalin are tarring Canada’s international image.

The RCMP laid new criminal charges January 31 against 2 senior SNC-Lavalin executives in the ongoing investigation into SNC’s RETA Gadhafi photoclose ties to the late Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi (Globe and Mail). Sami Bebawi, former Executive VP of SNC’s international construction division, and Stephane Roy, former SNC comptroller, were both charged with bribery of a foreign public official and fraud over $5,000. As well, Bebawi has been charged with 2 counts of money laundering and 4 counts of possessing property obtained by crime. In an affidavit filed in connection with the RCMP freezing assets belonging to Bebawi, the RCMP allege that from 2001 to 2011, SNC funnelled $118 million to a mysterious British Virgin Islands company that was created to make bribe payments to Saadi Gadhafi to secure Libyan contracts for SNC and to personally benefit Bebawi and another SNC executive, Riadh Ben Aissa, currently in jail in Switzerland. Stephane Roy has also been accused of contravening a special United Nations resolution that forbids citizens of member countries to deal with the Gadhafi regime financially. Roy is alleged to have made payments to maintain a Toronto penthouse condominium owned by Saadi Gadhafi, one of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons.

The Kerala State Government in India has recently initiated steps to blacklist SNC-Lavalin from participating in any future state tendering processes (Hindu Business Line). The action stems from an alleged criminal conspiracy to award SNC-Lavalin an exorbitant contract for the renovation and modernization of the Pallival, Sengulam and Panniyar hydroelectric projects in 1995-97.  The corruption case has been before the courts in India for months – including the Central Bureau of Investigation Special Court – and has included numerous high-ranking Indian government officials. Kerala’s decision to blacklist SNC follows on the heels of the World Bank banning SNC-Lavalin last year from bidding on any World Bank-funded projects for 10 years.

RETA money-laundering imageOn January 13, Burnaby Council discussed a motion to oppose a questionable environmental impact assessment conducted by SNC-Lavalin over a proposed coal expansion at Fraser Surrey Docks (Burnaby Now). Mayor Derek Corrigan provided some candid comments about SNC-Lavalin (see this YouTube link). The Mayor questioned the credibility of the assessment, considering the past and current Canadian and international corruption investigations into fraud, money-laundering and bribery by many SNC-Lavalin executives. He said the multi-national engineering giant “is up to its ear lobes in corruption in Montreal”, and  SNC-Lavalin has done more to bring Canadian engineering into disrepute than any other company in the history of Canada. Mayor Corrigan discussed the World Bank’s ban of SNC-Lavalin bidding on any of its projects world-wide, and said if the World Bank has banned SNC why is the company being allowed to conduct an environmental assessment in Burnaby’s backyard. He complained about SNC being brought into British Columbia to conduct a supposedly independent environmental assessment of the proposed coal expansion. He RETA corruption imagestrongly suggested collusion between the local port authority, the provincial government and SNC-Lavalin in awarding the contract to SNC to conduct the assessment. Mayor Corrigan said if people were aware of SNC’s international reputation of corruption, they would not want the company to be operating in B.C. He questioned the wisdom of shipping dirty coal from the mainland to Texada Island and then onto China. We encourage our readers to listen to the full YouTube video of Mayor Corrigan’s comments.

See this link for more information on corruption investigations and charges against SNC-Lavalin, which is building almost all of AltaLink’s high voltage power lines in Alberta. What would Albertans say if they were made aware of this scandal-plagued company operating in Alberta?

Pressure Builds in U.S. to Bury High Voltage Power Lines

•January 17, 2014 • Comments Off on Pressure Builds in U.S. to Bury High Voltage Power Lines

A bill and resolution are currently being considered in the U.S. to seriously consider burying high voltage power lines (New Hampshire NewsKane County Chronicle).

RETA Northern Pass stop the towers imageThe Northern Pass 345kV overhead high voltage line has been one of the most controversial proposals in the U.S. in recent history, with those opposed citing well-documented negative health, safety, visual, property value, environmental and economic impacts. Within the next several weeks, the New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would direct the state Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) to automatically consider transmission lines that aren’t buried to have an unreasonable impact. The bill stands a fair chance of getting passed, and if it does it could make it very difficult for the SEC to recommend approval of the Northern Pass project. (The SEC is a group of state bureaucrats that evaluates energy proposals.)

RETA Northern Pass live free or fry imageNew Hampshire State Senator Jeb Bradley strongly suspects that Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) and Northeast Utilities – which are proposing the Northern Pass line – have been grossly overestimating the costs to bury high voltage power lines. He bases this suspicion on PSNH’s recent error in estimating the cost of electricity in relation to a power plant scrubber. Bradley is quoted as saying, “The debate about the scrubber is making people like me test the hypothesis that it’s too expensive to bury the lines. I don’t buy it, I don’t buy their argument that it’s too expensive when they were off by almost a factor of seven-fold in terms of estimating the cost of electricity would be on the scrubber.”

(As a footnote, RETA has found that electricity transmission companies consistently grossly overestimate the costs of burying high voltage power lines because they make more money from building and maintaining overhead infrastructure. See this link for the facts on the costs of undergrounding.)

In Illinois, citizens are concerned about ComEd’s proposed 345kV transmission line, the Grand Prairie Gateway Project, and its impacts on property values, public health, forest reserves, county highways and agricultural operations. On January 15, the Kane County Development Committee recommended approval of the following resolution: “The installation of the power lines underground for certain sections of the project adjacent to residential and other sensitive uses may be technically feasible and could substantially mitigate the adverse impacts and effects of the project on residents and landowners as compared to the currently proposed aboveground tower design.”

Both the New Hampshire bill and the Kane County resolution clearly recognize the negative impacts of overhead high voltage power lines and the benefits of burying them.

RETA Northern Pass (Alliance Against) logoSome opponents of the Northern Pass line have shifted their focus to the aesthetics of the towers and lines (New Hampshire News). Transmission companies refuse to acknowledge the well-documented negative safety, health, environmental and property value impacts of overhead high voltage lines, but it’s more difficult for them to try to ignore the negative visual impacts of these lines. Almost everyone agrees that overhead lattice or monopole towers and the maze of conductors and wires are unsightly and a blight on any landscape they are built in. In fact, many RETA Northern Pass stop imagepeople – if not most – describe the overhead infrastructure as “ugly”. Perhaps the strongest argument in the future against overhead high voltage power lines may simply be that they are ugly. The other negative impacts are sometimes more challenging to describe, and some people may simply not want to believe the facts about health, the environment and property values. However, almost everyone who looks at a row of overhead lines and towers agrees they are ugly.

RETA Bury northern pass logo

Coal-fired Power Generation in Alberta Big Polluter

•January 15, 2014 • Comments Off on Coal-fired Power Generation in Alberta Big Polluter

RETA coal-fired power plant photoTwo Alberta physicians and the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment recently wrote an article on Alberta’s poor environmental record, specifically with respect to coal-fired electricity generation (Edmonton Journal). They encourage Premier Alison Redford to stop focusing on the federal government’s foot-dragging on greenhouse gas regulation, and instead to take the lead in phasing out coal-fired electricity plants in Alberta.

Dr. Joe Vipond, Dr. Raquel Feroe and Gideon Forman point out that coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and the quantity burned in Alberta to produce electricity is higher than all the other provinces put together. They write, “In 2011, this combustion resulted in more than 40 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly equal to all of those emanating from the oilsands.” They refer to A Costly Diagnosis, the 2013 report released by Physicians for the Environment, the Lung Association RETA asthma imageand the Asthma Society of Canada, which found “Alberta’s coal plants contribute to the death of more than 100 Albertans annually. They also cause 700 visits to emergency departments and more than 4,000 asthma attacks in the province each year.”

The article continues, “At its peak, Ontario’s coal fleet was about the same magnitude as Alberta’s; by the end of 2014, Ontario will no longer burn coal to make power…If Ontario can eliminate coal…surely Alberta, with its much smaller population, can do likewise.”

The article is a stinging indictment of Alberta’s environmental – and human health – record. Is it any wonder we have such a black eye nationally and internationally? Vipond, Feroe and Forman conclude the article with a challenge for Premier Redford to phase out coal-fired power in Alberta. RETA encourages its readers to read the entire article.

Concern in Ireland about Overhead High Voltage Power Lines

•January 14, 2014 • Comments Off on Concern in Ireland about Overhead High Voltage Power Lines

RETA Eirgrid logoEirgrid, an Irish state-owned energy company including electricity transmission, is planning about 1,500 km of high voltage power lines and pylons (towers) throughout Ireland, including 3 corridors of pylons across 16 counties. Communities have organized to fight the proposed overhead 400 kV lines due to documented negative impacts of overhead high voltage power lines on: health, property values, aesthetics (visual and noise), the environment, farming and other livelihoods, heritage and overall quality of life. To date, there have been about 35,000 submissions made during the public consultation process on one of the first proposed new lines – almost all against the overhead lines.

RETA Grid Link Action Group logoOne of the organizations fighting the overhead lines is Grid Link Action Group (GLAG), representing residents and businesses in the counties of Kildare, Laois and Wicklow (West). GLAG has been informing residents about a proposed 230-kilometre segment (Gridwest) of the new power line gridlink and its impacts. The group has been seeking expertise and resources from within the affected communities, and has been identifying and investigating alternative and acceptable solutions including underground, undersea and shared utilities. The group is also willing to hire professionals when necessary and to engage in a meaningful way with Eirgrid. Visit GLAG’s very informative website at this link.

Another organization, the Roscommon and Mayo Protection (RAMP) group, has asked landowners to “lock out” Eirgrid personnel from entering their properties and to shun all approaches from the company (Irish Independent).

If the new power lines are proven to be necessary, there appears to be broad support among the various groups to have the lines placed underground in order to eliminate the negative effects of the proposed 45-metre-tall pylons and lines.

RETA wishes all of the organizations success in their battle against this massive proposal by Eirgrid to construct new overhead 400 kV power lines throughout Ireland. For the facts on the many negative impacts of overhead high voltage lines, see this link, and for the facts on the many benefits of burying the lines, visit this link. Some of the medical and scientific research conducted on these subject matters can be found at this link.

RETA Pylons Stop Them image

AltaLink CEO Misleads Public Regarding Bird Deaths

•January 10, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink CEO Misleads Public Regarding Bird Deaths

Dennis Frehlich*, AltaLink’s interim President and CEO, suggested today that the dozens of ducks and other species recently found dead underneath an AltaLink 240 kV high voltage power line north of Pincher Creek is a “unique situation” (Calgary Herald). David McIntyre, the retired scientist who found the birds and estimated there to be hundreds of dead ducks killed by the same power line, disagreed and said the situation is not unique.

RETA AltaLink duck deaths imageMcIntyre said, “The ducks are there all the time. They will stay there as long as there is open water and they are on the open river. Ninety per cent of the waterfowl are below the dam so this is on the open Oldman River. There are dense concentrations of ducks, maybe 1,000-plus ducks.” After expressing concern about more birds getting killed by several other high voltage power lines being built and planned in the area by AltaLink, McIntyre said, “We have an existing line that is virtually a proven killer of waterfowl…So the writing is on the wall.”

Frehlich said, “We have 12,000 km of line across the province and we can’t mitigate everywhere. We’ve got a responsibility from a cost-effectiveness perspective.”

AltaLink’s overhead high voltage lines killing many birds is certainly not unique. There are hundreds of examples around Alberta. Based on bird kill statistics derived from other studies, it is possible that 1.5 million to 2.5 million birds are killed annually in Alberta by AltaLink’s 12,000 km of overhead high voltage lines.

Frehlich’s comments are typical of AltaLink’s perspective on the environmental impacts of their lines and specifically downplays the severity of bird deaths caused by overhead power lines. The CEO says AltaLink has a responsibility from a cost-effectiveness perspective. Translated, it means killing thousands of birds every day is just part of doing business for AltaLink, and they decide unilaterally that it might be too expensive to prevent all of these bird deaths. Let Albertans and electricity consumers decide.

A poll conducted by Leger Marketing in 2009 found that Albertans are very concerned about all the negative impacts of overhead high voltage lines and would be more than willing to pay more to have these lines buried, even if it did cost more to bury them. The fact is, buried lines are cheaper than overhead lines over the life of a line when you combine capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs. Burying high voltage lines essentially eliminates all of the negative impacts of overhead lines, including the killing of birds.

See this link for earlier coverage of the AltaLink bird death story.

* AltaLink’s permanent CEO, Scott Thon, is currently on loan to AltaLink’s scandal-plagued parent company, SNC-Lavalin, which is under multiple investigations for alleged fraud, bribery, money-laundering and moving money from one account to another. Charges have been laid in some cases.

AltaLink Power Line Like an “Avian Slaughterhouse”

•January 9, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Power Line Like an “Avian Slaughterhouse”

RETA AltaLink duck deaths imageIn follow up to RETA’s earlier post on David McIntyre’s discovery of dozens of dead ducks under a newly-built AltaLink 240 kV transmission line north of Pincher Creek, McIntyre is more recently quoted as saying,  “The land beneath the lines looks like an avian slaughterhouse.” (Edmonton Journal).

He went on to say, “It seems apparent that the new lines have, within a very short period of time, killed hundreds of ducks due to high-speed, bone-breaking collisions” with the power line. In addition to the ducks, McIntyre also found at least one Canada goose and a gray partridge underneath the AltaLink line.

AltaLink did not report the bird deaths to Alberta Environment & Sustainable Resource Development until after McIntyre made the information public. The Alberta Government has since sent a wildlife biologist to the site to investigate. McIntyre indicated that it appeared the birds were killed over an extended period of time because there were freshly killed ducks, and skeletal remains of others that were killed some time ago. He expressed concern about where the high voltage line was built – right in between a migratory bird staging area in the Oldman River valley and reservoir, and a grain feeding area.

RETA AUC logoAn AltaLink public affairs spokesperson said the power line received all of the necessary approvals – including an environmental assessment – by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). This response from AltaLink highlights a very serious weakness in the entire approval process for the construction of new high voltage power lines in Alberta.

Under pressure from the electricity transmission industry in Alberta, the Alberta Government quietly passed the Environmental Assessment (Mandatory and Exempted Activities) Regulation in April 2008 that exempted all high voltage power lines from the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). From April 2008 and on, it is at the sole discretion of the AUC to determine how much or how little environmental information even needs to be submitted by companies like AltaLink as part of their applications to build new lines. As well, since 2008, very few of the requirements under the Alberta Environmental Protection Guide for Transmission Lines (1994) need to be followed, including conservation and reclamation approvals or any public input on environmental concerns prior to construction of new lines.

What this means is that, since 2008, very limited environmental information has been required of the electricity transmission industry by the AUC. This makes sense, considering Railroaded fox guarding hen house 2 imagethe AUC is funded by the electricity transmission industry that it is supposed to regulate. This is essentially like letting the fox guard the hen house. As a result, the assessment of potential environmental impacts of new high voltage power lines in Alberta is extremely lax at best, to non-existent at worst.

This is but one more example of the rapidly diminishing rigor with which industrial development in Alberta is being scrutinized from an environmental impact perspective. Over the past few years, the Alberta Government has handed over the responsibility of environmental approval and monitoring to the industries that, by law, the government should be regulating.

See this link for information on the many benefits of burying high voltage power lines – which includes not killing birds.

AltaLink Transmission Line Kills Birds

•January 8, 2014 • Comments Off on AltaLink Transmission Line Kills Birds

David McIntyre, a retired scientist in southwest Alberta, recently found dozens of dead ducks under a newly-built 240 kV AltaLink transmission line north of Pincher Creek (CBC News). The line is currently under construction by AltaLink’s scandal-plagued parent company, SNC-Lavalin.

Based on a 10-minute walk along the line, McIntyre estimated the bird deaths may be in the hundreds. Judging from the damage to the ducks, he suggested the birds hit the lines in bad weather when they couldn’t see the lines. McIntyre pointed out that the high voltage power line is being built between a waterfowl staging area on the Oldman River valley and Oldman reservoir and adjacent grain field feeding areas.

AltaLink was unaware of any problems.

Bird deaths attributed to overhead power lines are well documented in the literature. An estimated 174 million birds are killed every year in the U.S. alone, crashing into power line conductors, shield wires and towers. Based on the scientific literature, experts estimated that the newly-built Heartland 500 kV transmission line in Edmonton and Sherwood Park may well kill between 8,200 and 14,100 birds every year. For a more thorough discussion of the impacts of overhead high voltage power lines on birds, see this link.

Burying power lines would prevent all of these bird deaths plus eliminate other negative environmental, safety, health, property value, livestock, agricultural crop, aircraft and aesthetic impacts of overhead lines.

Clark's Cartoon

Power Outages Spur Examination of Burying Lines

•January 3, 2014 • Comments Off on Power Outages Spur Examination of Burying Lines

RETA ice storm damage image 2Power lines downed by ice storms, snow storms and high winds left hundreds of thousands of households and businesses without power in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Parts of New Brunswick are still without power 2 weeks following the storm. Local governments affected by these most-recent storms want to know why their power lines aren’t being buried to avoid these hazardous and costly power outages.

In the aftermath of the storms that knocked out power to about 300,000 households in the Toronto area alone, Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc has suggested that Council needs to examine burying its power lines over a number of years and based on a sound plan (Toronto Star). He says the cost of storms like this most recent one need to be part of the cost/benefit analysis of burying hydro lines. Mihevc writes in the Star, “If the Ontario Energy Board has a concern with altering the cost/benefit calculation for burying wires, and providing the financial resources necessary to do the work, then the province needs to direct the OEB to a different policy. The work can be done over a 20-year period as streets get reconstructed. We have lost approximately 20 per cent of the city’s tree canopy. Burying hydro infrastructure would also better protect our urban forest.”

RETA dollar sign image (smaller)RETA applauds forward-thinking politicians like Joe Mihevc who challenge the power transmission and distribution industry mantra that it is just too expensive to bury power lines. Industry consistently fearmongers by erroneously suggesting that it costs 4 to 7 times as much to bury transmission and distribution lines as it does to build overhead. This is simply not so. Based on discussions with experts in successfully burying high voltage transmission lines all over the world, RETA learned several years ago that the electricity transmission industry, particularly in North America, has been hoodwinking the public and governments with this type of inaccurate information.

Undergrounding experts have told us that the capital cost of burying high voltage power lines can be as little as 15% higher than the cost of building overhead. When you add in the much higher costs of maintenance and transmission loss for above-ground lines over the life of a line, buried lines can actually be cheaper than overhead lines.

For the facts on the many benefits of burying power lines – financial/economic, environmental, health, safety, property value, aesthetic – see this link.

Heartland Power Line Up and Running

•December 29, 2013 • Comments Off on Heartland Power Line Up and Running

RETA Heartland transmission project logoEPCOR and AltaLink announced yesterday that construction of the controversial Heartland Transmission Project is now complete and the line is operating (Edmonton JournalEPCOR News Release).

RETA has written much about the Heartland line over the past 4 years – on this website and elsewhere. We conducted extensive research and spoke to hundreds of experts regarding the impacts of overhead high voltage power lines. RETA then provided information to the public about the line that EPCOR, AltaLink, the Alberta Government, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) refused to provide.

RETA property value impact imageWe provided information on the negative impacts of the Heartland line on property values, the environment (including bird deaths), health, safety, aesthetics (visual and noise), tourism, livestock and pets, agricultural crops, aircraft and pipelines. As well, RETA provided information on the susceptibility of overhead high voltage lines to storms and other inclement weather, solar storms and terrorism. Information was provided on the draconian legislation passed by the Alberta P.C. Government to streamline the approval of high voltage lines such as the Heartland line.

RETA commissioned Leger Marketing to conduct an unbiased poll of Albertans’ views on high voltage power lines, which indicated overwhelmingly that RETA Leger Marketing logoAlbertans are concerned about the many negative impacts of overhead power lines and want them buried whenever they run close to homes, schools and daycare centres. We sponsored many public rallies and town hall meetings to share information with the public that AltaLink and EPCOR refused to share – well over 11,000 people attended these information sessions.

Following extensive discussions with experts, we provided information on the many benefits of burying the Heartland line, or at minimum a portion of the line affecting the most people. Burying the line essentially would have eliminated almost all of the negative impacts of an overhead line.

RETA AUC logoRETA represented thousands of concerned residents and businesses at the AUC hearing on the Heartland line,  presenting volumes and volumes of data and expert testimony to show why the Heartland line should not be built, but if it was built, that it should be buried. And finally, we appealed the AUC’s decision that gave the go-ahead for the Heartland line to be built next to so many people, and we appealed – through a Judicial Review –  the Alberta Infrastructure Minister’s approval of the line. Unfortunately, almost all of the information that RETA, the County of Strathcona, City of Edmonton, Homeowners Against Lines Overhead, Sherwood Park Fish and Game Association and many individual homeowners presented was ignored by AltaLink, EPCOR, the Alberta Government, AESO and the AUC.

The Heartland line is the line to nowhere. There are no downstream customers. There were supposed to be 13 and then 9 tar sands upgraders built in the Industrial Heartland, but now there’s only one and it will be co-generating its own electricity just as would any other upgrader that might ever get built there. ATCO Power is building a cleaner gas-powered electricity generator in the Industrial Heartland, so any power that might ever be needed there, over and above what upgraders co-generate, would be provided by ATCO’s generator. So what’s the Heartland line for? It’s being energized to only 15% of its capacity. So why the gigantic 500 kV double circuit monster line? Many have speculated that its RETA PC Assoc logoprimary purpose will be to serve as part of the transmission system that will export electricity to the U.S.; however, the Alberta P.C. Government has promised Albertans  that the Heartland line, Western Alberta Transmission Line and Eastern Alberta Transmission Line will not be used for export. Others have suggested we shouldn’t believe anything the P.C. Government says, considering its poor credibility track record on most issues during the past few years.

RETA dollar sign image (smaller)Even though there are no customers for the Heartland power, all Albertans will be paying for this line for many decades plus an annual guaranteed 9% to AltaLink and EPCOR.

The Heartland line is the biggest and most visible high voltage line anywhere in Alberta. It will be transmitting dirty coal-fired electricity generated at RETA school closure sign imageWabamun. It runs next to 5,280 homes, many businesses, several daycare centres and several schools. Colchester Elementary School was forced to close down because of the line. It traverses numerous designated conservation areas and other natural areas. And…the list goes on.

The Heartland line is one of the biggest mistakes the Alberta P.C. government, AESO and AUC have ever made.

Power Outages Cost Millions

•December 26, 2013 • Comments Off on Power Outages Cost Millions

RETA ice storm damage image 1This past weekend, about 1 million households were left in the dark because ice storms knocked down overhead electricity transmission and distribution lines in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. Thousands of households may not get their power back on until this coming weekend.

It’s not only major storms that wreak havoc with overhead power lines. Every day in Canada and the U.S., tens of thousands of households are without power because either minor storms, lightning, traffic accidents, birds or aircraft impact overhead lines. The following power outages are but a few of the many that occurred in the U.S. and Canada within the past 6 days (and are not included in the 1 million household statistic above):

1. About 80,500 customers were without power in Oklahoma due to a winter storm last weekend (The Times).

2. About 5,000 customers in Missouri had their power knocked out by a winter storm last weekend (fourstateshomepage.com).

3. Strong winds knocked out power Christmas morning to about 5,000 customers in Simi Valley, southern California (NBC 4).

RETA tree fallen onto power line image4. About 9,000 people had no power December 21 in Sitka, Alaska when an old hemlock tree fell on a high voltage transmission line (KCAW).

5. A tree fell into power lines on December 23, causing a blackout to about 6,390 customers in Seattle, Washington (Seattle pi).

6. About 3,000 people in Tulsa, Oklahoma were without power December 24 when a tree limb fell on a power line (Fox 23).

7. A power pole that caught fire December 25 due to equipment malfunction knocked out power to about 3,500 residents in Des Moines, Iowa (DesMoinesRegister.com).

8. A snowplow that hit a power pole guy wire December 22 caused a power outage to portions of Platteville, Wisconsin (Telegraph Herald).

RETA Car crash with power pole image9. A power pole was damaged during a vehicle accident December 24 in Gainesville, Georgia. Electricity had to be shut off to the area while the power company repaired the damage (Accessnorthga.com).

10. Power was knocked out Christmas Day to about 75 homes in Sparta, New Jersey, when a vehicle sheared off a utility pole at its base (Alternative Press).

11. About 30 customers were without power December 26 in Holiday Park, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, after a truck hit and split a power pole (Star Phoenix).

12. A vehicle crash December 26 knocked out power to some residents in Dayton, Ohio. Power lines fell to the ground and caused sparking near the crashed vehicle (Dayton Daily News).

RETA osprey nesting image13. An osprey building a nest dropped large branches onto electricity facilities on Captiva Island, Florida, causing a power outage December 23 to more than 2,000 customers (ABC 7).

14. Over 3,000 customers lost power December 24 in Green County and Dane County, Wisconsin, following trouble with a high voltage transmission line (Pierce County Herald).

Millions of dollars are spent repairing damaged overhead power lines, and power outages cost millions of dollars in lost productivity. Power outages can also be hazardous to people’s health and safety. For example, 2 people died this week in Newcastle east of Toronto from carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to heat their home with a gas-powered generator. An ice storm had knocked out power to about 300,000 households in the Toronto area (UPI).

Power outages such as those described above can be prevented if power lines are buried.

Ice Storm Knocks Out Power to Hundreds of Thousands of Canadians

•December 23, 2013 • Comments Off on Ice Storm Knocks Out Power to Hundreds of Thousands of Canadians

A catastrophic ice storm over the weekend – December 21 and 22 – knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (National PostCBC News).

RETA ice storm damage image 1About 400,000 households in Ontario were without power, 51,000 in Quebec, 42,000 in New Brunswick and 12,000 in Nova Scotia. At least one municipality, the Township of Woolwich near Waterloo, declared a state of emergency Sunday night because the power was expected to be out for 24 hours. In Toronto, about 300,000 households had no power during the peak of the storm. Ice-coated tree branches have snapped and brought down power lines. By Sunday, 500 power lines were on the ground in Toronto. Many households will not have any power by Christmas, and some will not have their power turned back on for a week.

This ice storm comes on the heels of a storm on November 27, 2013 that ripped through the Maritimes and left 38,000 households without power in Nova Scotia and thousands in New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland.

RETA ice storm damage image 2These winter storms, which are becoming more common in North America, are hazardous to people’s health and safety, and are costly in terms of damages and lost productivity. Power reconnection costs in Toronto alone for this most recent outage are estimated at $1 million a day.

The public, municipal governments, provincial and state governments are becoming concerned and have been asking their local electricity transmission and distribution providers why power lines aren’t being buried. Dangerous and costly power outages could be prevented if power lines were buried. Data show that constantly maintaining overhead power lines, due to storms and other inclement weather, bird collisions, aircraft collisions (airplane, helicopter, hot air balloons), vehicles and other equipment snagging lines and knocking down poles, and lightning strikes, costs more over the life of a line than burying the line.

When will electricity transmission and distribution companies join the 21st century and bury our power lines just like all of our other utilities?

For more information on power outages see this link.

AltaLink Building More New Power Lines in Ponoka, Innisfail and Didsbury Areas

•December 23, 2013 • Comments Off on AltaLink Building More New Power Lines in Ponoka, Innisfail and Didsbury Areas

RETA AUC logoObjections are being filed with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on AltaLink’s proposed construction of new overhead transmission lines and substations in the Ponoka, Innisfail and Didsbury areas (Innisfail Province 1Innisfail Province 2). It’s all part of AltaLink’s $200-million plan to redevelop the Red Deer transmission grid.

The town of Innisfail is objecting to AltaLink’s preferred route, indicating it will have negative economic and social impacts on the community. The town’s Director of Planning and RETA property value impact imageOperations, Craig Teal,  says the preferred route will seriously hamper economic development in the town’s already challenged industrial areas, including creating an overhead hazard for the shipping of large industrial items. AltaLink’s preferred route would also cut through a future planned residential area. The town is essentially arguing that an overhead line would sterilize the wide power line right-of-way for any other economic or development uses.

Residents object to the new transmission infrastructure because they’re worried about the adverse health effects of overhead power line electromagnetic fields (EMFs), and the negative effects on the environment. Some nearby residents have complained that AltaLink has not even bothered to contact them.

Residents located along the alternate route have also objected to the overhead high voltage lines, arguing that this route would negatively impact a lot of people as well. Their property values have already been devalued by existing transmission infrastructure and they’re worried their properties will devalue even more if additional lines and substations are built.

Teal says both routes raise concerns for Innisfail. He said, “They could come up with a perfectly good third solution that resolves all of our issues.” Teal is correct – burying the new lines would resolve all of their issues.

RETA towers many photoAn AUC public relations spokesperson, Jim Law, suggested the Commission takes all objections to planned electrical provider projects seriously. He suggested a hearing would look at all social, economic and environmental issues that may be of concern to the community. Anyone who has participated in public consultation processes and AUC hearings on new power lines knows this is not true. The AUC almost always rubber stamps the transmission company’s preferred route, with perhaps the odd minor rerouting of a tower here or there. Public input, including from residents and municipalities, is not seriously considered by the AUC.

AltaLink, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Montreal-based and scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin, has received approval to build hundreds of kilometres of new overhead transmission lines and substations in Alberta during the past 2 years. And, AltaLink has plans to build many hundreds of kilometres of additional lines. Experts have argued repeatedly that all of these new lines are not needed and that there is inadequate accounting for this new construction. Experts have also argued the high cost of electricity in Alberta, due to market manipulation and the high cost of new overhead transmission infrastructure, will drive industry and other businesses out of Alberta.

AltaLink Proposes Another Power Line Through Conservation Area in Colchester

•December 22, 2013 • Comments Off on AltaLink Proposes Another Power Line Through Conservation Area in Colchester

RETA AESO logoThe Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and AltaLink are proposing yet another overhead high voltage power line through the Colchester community – this time, a double circuit 138 kV line to run from Anthony Henday Drive East to a substation south of Cooking Lake, southeast of Edmonton. AltaLink and the AESO call this most recent project the Cooking Lake 138 kV Transmission Line and Substation Upgrade.

The double circuit 500 kV Heartland transmission line, the largest in Alberta, is still under construction through the Sherwood Park and Edmonton Greenbelts and through the Colchester community – and already the AESO and AltaLink are proposing yet another high voltage line in the area. The AESO, AltaLink, EPCOR, Alberta Government and the RETA property value impact imageRETA Health hazard imageAlberta Utilities Commission (AUC) ignored the volumes of data presented to them that clearly indicated the negative health, safety, environmental, property value and visual impacts of the Heartland line. The same 5 players had clearly agreed well before any public consultation processes began that the Heartland line would be built in the Sherwood Park and Edmonton Greenbelts. The Alberta Government had even passed legislation (Bill 50) in this regard.

Not only was the decision made to build the overhead Heartland line where the most people would be directly and adversely impacted (5,280 homes within 800 m), but the decision-makers refused to seriously consider burying a portion of the line where the most residents would be impacted. Colchester Elementary School was one of many casualties of this ill-founded decision, and now sits empty because parents refused to expose their young children to the negative health impacts of electromagnetic fields and the corona effect from the Heartland line located only about 140 m from the school grounds.

So…what do residents – farmers and acreage owners – located along the most recently-proposed 138 kV line to Cooking Lake have to look forward to? They can look forward to the same kind of so-called public consultation processes and AUC hearing that residents along the Heartland line currently under construction were subjected to between 2009 and RETA AUC logo2012. Many directly impacted residents have described that entire process, including the AUC hearing, as “theatre”…that is, an attempt by the electricity operator (AESO), the electricity regulator (AUC), the Alberta Government and the transmission companies (AltaLink and EPCOR) to make the public believe that their input and submissions meant something – when in fact they did not.

Some landowners and homeowners located along the 3 proposed routes of the Cooking Lake 138 kV Transmission Line and Substation Upgrade were sent packages of information in August by AltaLink, informing them of the project. All landowners located within 800 m of the proposed routes were supposed to receive this information because they have the potential to be directly and adversely impacted – many did not receive any information at all. This is typical and indicative of how seriously transmission companies like AltaLink take their obligations to those who will be negatively impacted by their overhead high voltage power lines. The same occurred during the Heartland public consultation process where hundreds of directly impacted households were not contacted or were provided with erroneous information by AltaLink and EPCOR.

One of the 3 proposed routes for the new 138 kV line would run from the southeast corner of Anthony Henday East in an east-southeasterly direction to a substation a short distance RETA environmental impact imagesouth of Cooking Lake. This route would be the longest of the 3 proposed routes (and therefore presumably the most expensive) and would traverse the majority of the Bretona Pond wetland complex. Bretona Pond is a designated conservation area and Buck-for-Wildlife Area. Strathcona County’s Outdoor Master Plan lists the pond as a significant natural feature, primarily as a productive wetland for nesting, moulting, staging and migrating waterfowl*. Logic would suggest that this route would be the least appropriate; however, past routing decisions for overhead high voltage lines in Alberta have certainly not been based on logic nor on the facts.

The routing of overhead power lines in Alberta will continue to be based on whatever the AESO, AUC, Alberta Government and transmission companies decide – not on the basis of facts or least impact, and not on the basis of public input. Unfortunately, the same players refuse to seriously consider burying high voltage power lines to minimize or eliminate the many negative impacts of overhead lines.

It is also worth noting that the justification provided by the AESO and AltaLink for building this new 138 kV line is, “This area has grown significantly in recent years and the demand for electricity has increased.” The area to be serviced by this new line has in fact not grown significantly in recent years, nor has the demand for electricity in this area increased. In other words, the line is not needed. However, why should this line be any different than many of the other high voltage lines recently approved, but shown not to be necessary (e.g., Heartland Transmission Project, Western Alberta Transmission Line, Eastern Alberta Transmission Line). Transmission companies in Alberta receive a minimum guaranteed annual return of 9% on transmission infrastructure, regardless of the extent to which the lines are energized. For example, the double circuit 500 kV Heartland line will be energized to only 15% of its total capacity.

* See this link for information on the negative impacts of overhead power lines on birds, and this link for information on negative impacts on the environment. About 174 million birds are killed every year in the U.S. alone by crashing into overhead power lines. 

RETA Bird Kill photo

Power Line EMFs Attack Body’s Immune System

•December 19, 2013 • Comments Off on Power Line EMFs Attack Body’s Immune System

recent article in grounditout.com describes the extensive medical research conducted showing that even low levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) depress the production of