Bigger Must Be Better!

Well once again the Heartland Transmission Project (HTP) team has displayed an uncanny ability to completely ignore the people whose input they are supposed to solicit i.e. the public.

RETA was invited to a “pre-publication” meeting with Bruce Brandell of EPCOR to review the latest news letter from the HTP team entitled “Consultation Update”.  In true HTP team style, the news letter was published and circulated before we met and so the meeting was little more than “Here’s what we’ve said.  Do you love it?”

The first bombshell they dropped (you’ve probably heard about this by now) is that they’ve decided to “upgrade” the towers from 60 metres tall to 73 metres (about 240’).  If you thought the last ones were big, well, let me tell you, these ones are huge!

And so we asked them what possible part of their public consultation resulted in this brilliant move. Their response was, “Well, it’s cheaper! Less steel.”

“So the 4,000 people you claim to be consulting with asked for bigger towers because they’re cheaper?” we asked.

“No” came the response.

“So, then this is entirely driven by cost?”

Once again, a mono-syllabic response. “Yes.”

“I see, so how many people have you consulted with who would like the line put underground despite it being more expensive?” I asked.

“We don’t really know but we’re going to go back and count them.  It was definitely in the top three issues though,” said Mr Brandell.

“And what are the other two top issues?” I queried.

“Health and property values,” came the reply.

“Both of which are mitigated by putting the lines underground,” I offered.

“I suppose so,” Brandell replied cautiously.

“So, what you’re telling me is that the top issues coming from your public consultation with over 4,000 Albertans were that people are concerned about health and property values and consequently want the lines buried, yet despite this you’re going to recommend putting the lines above ground?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Brandell smiling.

“Okay, so despite your fiduciary responsibility to consult with the public and to use the information gathered from consultation to inform your recommendation to the AUC, you’re simply deciding, all on your own, that what Albertans want is the solution that has the lowest immediate cost.  Nothing else matters.”

No response.  Hmmm.  Apparently “consultation” must have a different meaning which I was previously unaware of.  Something akin to “ignore” I suspect.

After this delightful debate the conversation turned to discussing what progress, if any, the HTP team had made on understanding the true costs of undergrounding the Heartland line.

“I understand there’s been some refining going on with regard to the cost of the above ground and underground options,” I said.

“That’s right.”

“And I’ve been led to believe that on further analysis, the cost of above ground is going up and the cost of underground is coming down,” I stated.

Who told you that?” came a nervous response.

“I can’t recall,” I said, not wanting to reveal my sources, “but the work on above ground should be complete by now.”

“That’s right.”

“And, for that matter, I think that the work on refining underground costs should be done by now too,” I added.

“No.  The underground work hasn’t been finished,” responded Brandell.

“Why not ?” I asked.

Brandell paused and then hastily replied, “We’re having trouble getting the engineers together.”

I couldn’t resist an opportunity for sarcasm. “So, that happens quite a bit, then, does it?  I mean, losing your engineers and not being able to round them up?  But surely you’re planning on making this revised costing information available to the public?”

“Of course.”

“When?”

“We don’t know.”

“Before the submission to the AUC?”

“We don’t know right now.  I think so.”

So, once again, the team tasked with keeping the public informed about all of the options under consideration – the team responsible for getting our feedback on how our money is going to be spent – comes up completely short of the mark.  Well done.  Can’t say I’m surprised though.

* * *

On to one other quick update.  While it has been relatively quiet during the summer and attentions have been elsewhere, we recently issued a press release in response to Premier Stelmach’s response to our open letter of April this year asking him to re-evaluate the need for the lines (especially in view of all of the cancelled upgraders and general change in economic climate within the Province, not dissimilar to what he did when he reviewed the oil & gas royalty structure).

Well, his response was a well crafted letter that said nothing.  It pointed to two studies that showed nothing more than the need being largely dependent on the now cancelled upgraders.

It may well be that Bill 50 means that there is no public input on the needs process and it may well be that the government can simply call something “critical infrastructure” and it will be built regardless of the need, but that does not give the government the right to make these decisions without some kind of basis in fact.  To make this decision, surely they must have collected data and information to support their arguments and surely someone must have reviewed it.

Well fortunately, thanks to the Alberta Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, we still have the right to ask the government what that information was, who reviewed it and how it figured in to the decisions that were made.

Sadly, in the absence of the government being forthcoming on this information we have been forced to submit a series of “Requests to Access Information” as provided for under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (commonly known as FOIP requests).

It will take a few weeks to get the responses to these requests and the responses, no doubt, will in turn cause us to issue still further requests as the picture becomes somewhat less muddy.  We’ll be sure to keep you informed as to what our legal team uncovers.

That’s it for now.  Once again, I would like to urge you to write a letter to your MLA, as well as the Premier to let them know that they need to put this line underground before it becomes a major election issue for them.

Thanks, as always, for your continued support.

Bruce Johnson,

President, RETA

~ by RETA on August 3, 2010.

 
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