Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans
AUC Heartland Hearing – Day 21
RETA presented experts on property devaluation, visual impacts, noise and environmental impacts on May 11, as well as a panel of residents and business owners who would be directly impacted by the Applicants’ preferred route.
RETA’s environmental expert, John Kristensen, said the Applicants’ environmental assessment is deficient in many respects: poor baseline data, very limited literature review, misrepresentation of the data, and overt bias toward favouring the overhead lattice tower option over the underground option within the preferred route. On numerous occasions, RETA had provided the Applicants with published baseline data on the biological resources in and adjacent to the preferred route, but the Applicants chose to ignore these data.
Studies report 182 bird species, 26 mammal species and 3 amphibian species in the preferred route landscape area, of which 34 bird species and 2 mammal species are sensitive or threatened (as determined by the federal or Alberta governments). The Applicants’ consistent characterization of “inferior” and “low quality” wildlife habitat in and along their preferred route was criticized, by pointing out that many of the ponds and wetlands in the preferred route landscape area are home to thousands of waterbirds. For example, a photo of a very small pond in the preferred route very close to the proposed Heartland line was shown that had 1,615 waterfowl stopping over during Fall migration.
Environmental impacts of an overhead lattice tower option were shown to be significantly greater than for the underground option for numerous reasons. An estimated 8,200 to 14,100 birds could be killed annually colliding with an overhead Heartland line, especially because the proposed towers and lines would be the tallest ever built in Alberta and would consist of 20 wires (18 conductors and 2 shield wires) that would pose a significant hazard to birds that utilize the many ponds and wetland complexes in the preferred route.
RETA’s noise expert, FDI Acoustics Inc., pointed out that the Applicants’ noise impact assessment was inadequate for many reasons including: sound readings were not completed in all weather conditions, a cumulative noise impact assessment was not completed, and the impact of wind on the proposed above ground power lines was not considered. He indicated that burying the line would eliminate the corona noise and other above-ground-related noise.
RETA’s visual impact assessment expert, Riparia Ltd., indicated that the Applicants had only conducted visualizations – not visual impact assessments. He pointed out that the Applicants’ visual simulations were very biased through use of wide-angle and panoramic photography which made proposed towers appear unnaturally small on large panel photos shown at open houses and information sessions. RETA’s expert had prepared accurate visual simulations which showed just how tall the proposed towers would appear in a number of neighbourhoods along the preferred route. His overall presentation clearly revealed how biased the Applicants’ visualization consultant (Truescape) had been in presenting visual simulations. Burying the line would eliminate any negative visual impacts.
RETA’s accredited property appraisal expert, Brian Gettel, estimated that the values of properties neighbouring an above ground Heartland line would be depreciated by 10% to 20%, with homes situated closest to the proposed line being affected the most. He also indicated the impacts to high value luxury homes would be even more significant. The fact that the proposed Heartland line would be the largest ever built in Alberta would negatively impact property values even more and for greater distances from the line. Burying the line would eliminate any property devaluation.
Residents along the preferred route raised many safety, health, property value, aesthetic and environmental concerns about an overhead line the magnitude of the Heartland line. They spoke about due diligence conducted before buying their homes revealing that the Sherwood Park Greenbelt legislation set aside this land as a green space and not for overhead power lines. Residents spoke about the stress and impacts on health the Applicants’ flawed public consultation process had already caused.
One resident (and RETA Board member) provided many examples of how biased the public consultation process had been, and that the AESO and Applicants had indicated their preference for the Edmonton and Sherwood Park Greenbelt route well before any public consultation commenced and well before any initial routes were proposed. He spoke about the relatively positive underground feasibility study conducted by Cable Consulting International and the positive comments by EPCOR and AltaLink engineers about the technical feasibility and reliability of the underground option; however then the AESO put their negative spin on the results because they were not supportive of burying the line.
Residents spoke about moving to the area because of the green space view, and had even paid a premium to live adjacent to the natural area. Another resident spoke about the thousands of birds that fly back and forth across the proposed power line route, especially during Spring and Fall migration. She pleaded with the AUC not to reward AltaLink’s and EPCOR’s poor consultation process by approving their recommended option of building the line above ground. A rural land owner living along the alternate route said he did not want the proposed line on his farm unless the line was buried.
The owner of A and D Daycare in Sherwood Park, situated next to the proposed line, discussed how the over 100 children in the daycare centre would be exposed to increased health risks, and many of the parents would pull their children out of the daycare if an above ground line was built. The Daycare, in existence for several decades, would in all likelihood close down and it would be difficult to relocate anywhere that offered a sufficiently large playground area (as required by law). The owners and staff would be out of work.
All residents stated that the line should be buried, especially because of its unique magnitude, and because it would be situated next to so many residents (15,000 to 18,000). The recently realigned preferred route did not satisfy them.
RETA spoke briefly in follow up to underground expert evidence provided last week. It was pointed out that the members of Europacable, one of RETA’s information sources, were in the business of building both underground and overhead power lines, and were therefore not biased in their positive assessments of buried lines. The reduction of magnetic field levels to almost zero above buried lines was discussed as one of the primary benefits in terms of reducing health risks.
Colleen Boddez of the Sturgeon Landowners Group spoke about the Applicants’ flawed public consultation process. Their process has pitted neighbour against neighbour. She said no one deserves this line, regardless of which route they live on. She pointed out that the Heartland line was not even necessary and that Albertans were “mad as hell” about Bill 50 and other legislation passed by the Alberta Government that has excluded the public from any meaningful input into electricity transmission decisions.
Sturgeon County criticized the AESO for not taking more of a leadership role in development of power line corridors. Under cross examination, it appeared that Sturgeon County was more concerned about the cost of burying the line than about the health, safety, property value and environmental impacts of an overhead line.
Members of the Gibbons Landowners Group provided many examples of the Applicants’ poor public consultation process. Land agents had mislead and misinformed them, and the power line route kept changing. Landowners were worried about health and property value impacts, noise, safety, and impacts on a local natural spring. One landowner was worried about the impacts on their horse stable commercial operation.