AUC Heartland Hearing – Day 16

The Alberta Utilities Commission continued cross examination of the Applicants on May 4 with questions to Dr. William Bailey, who has been testifying as a health expert for the electricity transmission industry for over 23 years. (Dr. Bailey testified for TransAlta at the ERCB hearing in 1988 on TransAlta’s application to build a 240kV power line in east Edmonton. At that time, TransAlta wanted to build the line next to 2 existing high voltage lines in Mill Woods, whereas the Alberta Government wanted the line built in the Edmonton and Sherwood Park Greenbelts.)

Dr. Bailey dismissed almost any study that reported elevated health risks of prolonged exposure to overhead high voltage line electromagnetic fields (EMFs). He referred to conclusions of these studies as “erroneous” and  “mischaracterizing the facts”. He criticized the studies’ methodology or labeled them as “one-off”. Dr. Bailey essentially criticized any research that did not agree with the view generally held by the electric utility industry that there are no health risks associated with overhead high voltage power lines.

The AUC lawyer asked Dr. Bailey what he thought about scientific studies over time that eventually revealed that asbestos, smoking, DDT, and thalidomide caused negative health; and was it not possible that future research might also reveal a cause and effect relationship between EMFs and negative health.

AltaLink indicated that EMF levels of an overhead Heartland line would double in 2027 when they would increase energization of the line from 15% of its capacity to 30%.

The AUC Chair indicated he was struck by how many wetlands there are in the Sherwood Park Greenbelt. He asked the Applicants a number of questions about the concerns by Colchester Elementary School parents with an overhead Heartland line built next to the school. With respect to addressing landowner concerns, the Chair asked, since the Heartland towers would be the largest in our province’s history, had the Applicants discussed any special considerations of unique landowner situations, and not be concerned about setting a precedent. In response, AltaLink indicated that we will likely not see power line towers this tall again in Alberta; however,  the company was cautious about making any exceptions to their very limited landowner buyout policy because of cost. The Chair requested the Applicants to provide the AUC with a “straw dog” of principles or criteria (for this project only) that could be applied to exceptional cases for buyouts or routing adjustments.

Two families presented their concerns about the environmental, health, property value and visual impacts of an overhead line next to their homes. One family indicated their home, daycare centre and children’s school would all be located very close to the power line, and they would move in order to protect their children’s health.

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) was cross examined next. The very close working relationship between the AESO and Alberta Energy was exemplified by an e-mail request from Alberta Energy for a Ministerial briefing note from the AESO to explain why a 500kV Heartland line was necessary considering it would be energized to only 15% of its capacity. (The AESO purports to operate independently from the Alberta Government and the electrical transmission industry.)

Individual landowners and lawyers representing landowners and local governments questioned the AESO about the need for the line (at all) and about the proposed capacity of the line. Cross examiners pointed out how electricity demands had dropped drastically since the AESO conducted its load growth review in 2008 and 2009, and most large industries did not even need coal-fired electricity from Wabamun transmitted by the Heartland line because they either already were or would be co-generating their own electricity.

Cross examination by RETA and the AUC revealed that the AESO was not at all supportive of the underground option. The AESO had insisted on referring to this option as the “stakeholder-requested option” rather than simply the “underground option” because they were fearful the latter might “box the AUC into a corner”. An AESO engineer initially responded to the AUC that they had not certified the underground option as meeting the technical requirements and long-term transmission plans because of the cost.  The AUC pointed out that it was the AESO’s role to consider whether proposals met the technical requirements and long-term transmission plans – not to assess the economics of proposals. By the end of the evening, and following significant confusion, the AESO finally agreed that they had certified the underground option as meeting the technical requirements.

~ by RETA on May 4, 2011.

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