How Do We Fix Electricity Transmission in Alberta?

RETA is not and never has been an anti-development organization – we want a stronger province with a stronger economy and with growing industrial development. We believe that the best way to encourage growth and development is to ensure businesses have ready access to AFFORDABLE electricity and that communities are able to grow without worrying about coming too close to transmission lines. With that in mind, we think the following steps would help address the issues raised by the Heartland Transmission Line and ensure a strong and affordable power distribution system for all Albertans.

1) Revise the Mandate of AESO – The Alberta Electrical System Operator (AESO) is the organization that is charged with making initial recommendations about building new transmission lines. However, AESO is set up in a way that gives it a bias towards over-building. (Current energy minister Ted Morton said that when he was running for the leadership of the PC party). In our view, the mandate of AESO should be to identify cases where transmission lines are required to ensure further development, but also to take into consideration the affect that an increase in transmission costs will have on potential development and try to find ways of minimizing that cost.

2) Make the AUC Truly Independent – The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) is a quasi-judicial body which reviews proposed transmission developments. Currently, members of the AUC can be appointed and removed by the government at will. This significantly reduces the likelihood that the AUC would ever refuse an application which the government was in favour of. The AUC needs to be made entirely independent. Members of the AUC should be like judges – appointed for extended terms and able to operate without fear of being removed in the middle of their term.

3) Repeal Bill 50 – This legislation allows the government to skip the normal needs-assessment process for transmission lines. In our view, if a power line is needed, then the normal needs-assessment process should bare out that conclusion. If a power line is not needed, then it should not be built.

4) Develop a Natural Gas Strategy – Natural gas is cheap, and a lot cleaner than many of the alternatives. Natural gas power plants can be built near the places where power is needed, often at a much lower cost than transmission lines. Therefore, a provincial natural gas strategy to encourage the use of natural gas to produce power close to the places where it is needed would reduce the need for big transmission lines and save Albertans a lot of money on their power bills.

5) Give Albertans an Opportunity to Sell Electricity They Generate Back to the Grid – The best way to encourage power generation close to where it is needed and minimize the need for transmission lines is to allow every consumer of power to also be a producer of power. For example, if a citizen wants to invest in solar panels for their roof, then they should be able to sell the power they generate back to the grid. This concept has been called ‘net metering’ – at the end of each month, consumers would pay the difference between the cost of the power they produced and the cost of the power they used. (Or they would receive the difference if they produced more than they consumed). Everyone, from individual families to big industrial operations, should be given the opportunity and the incentive to do net metering, provided that the excess power they generated could be used in areas accessible through the existing power grid.

6) Bury Transmission Lines When They are Near People – The previous 5 points will reduce but not eliminate the building of transmission lines. In cases where they are needed, they should be buried when they run near where people live, work, or go to school.

7) Allow Anyone to Bid on Transmission Line Construction – Some companies in other parts of the world have a lot of experience burying transmission lines and can do it at a much lower cost than the costs presented by AltaLink and Epcor during the Heartland hearings. It’s a no-brainer to allow all companies the equal opportunity to bid on transmission infrastructure. This makes it easier and cheaper to minimize the impacts of transmission lines on communities.

These changes would ensure the existence of a strong and affordable transmission system for all Albertans. Unlike the proposed over-build, they would make sure that Albertans can have reliable access to power at the lowest possible cost and with the least possible negative impacts on their quality of life.

~ by RETA on January 24, 2012.

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