Electricity Transmission in Alberta Ignores the Public Interest

Residents continue to express their frustration with AltaLink’s proposed high voltage power line near Medicine Hat (Medicine Hat News 1). Most recently, they are angered by the expenses for the public information campaign by AltaLink and the costs associated with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing on the proposed line.

RETA AUC logoBased on this and the many other AUC hearings held around our province to approve AltaLink’s high voltage power line applications, it has become abundantly clear that the public consultation processes by AltaLink and the associated AUC hearings are nothing but theatre – an attempt to suggest to the public that their input is meaningful.

AltaLink conducts open houses where they present a very biased picture of the new power lines they propose to build. AltaLink staff suggest at these open houses that there are no negative impacts of their new lines on property values, the environment, aesthetics, health, safety, tourism, pipelines or agriculture; when in fact, just the opposite is true. AltaLink staff do not tell people at their open houses that overhead transmission lines kill millions of birds every year, experience repeated and expensive outages due to storms, and cause hundreds of aircraft accidents annually. Manipulated photographs with simulated inserted proposed towers and lines suggest to open house participants that AltaLink’s high voltage lines will be barely visible on the landscape, when in fact monster towers and lines scar the landscape and are just plain ugly. When individual landowner consultation meetings are held, AltaLink representatives ask loaded questions that usually are prefaced with very leading and biased information.

And then, when the AUC hearings are held, the theatre really begins. AltaLink’s high-priced consultants (hired guns?) make well-rehearsed presentations on how there are either no negative effects of their proposed lines or if there are any impacts, they are very minor. When intervenors (directly affected and concerned residents, landowners, businesses, municipalities) are cross-examined by AltaLink and AUC lawyers, they are challenged on a whole array of matters, including their credibility within any of the subject areas they raise. Even the credibility of experts hired by intervenors is questioned by AltaLink’s lawyers, whereas, the AUC appears to automatically accept whatever AltaLink’s hired consultants tell the hearing.

AUC lawyers cross-examine AltaLink’s team of consultants very differently than they do the intervenors and any experts that intervenors may have. AUC lawyers ask very polite questions of AltaLink’s team of consultants, often for clarification, but not to challenge any of them. The AUC has seen many, if not most, of AltaLink’s consultants many times before at previous hearings, so it’s almost like an “old-home-week” for AUC staff and the AltaLink consultant panel. We are aware, first-hand, about the same consultants testifying for transmission companies at public hearings in Alberta for over 23 years. In many of these cases, AltaLink’s consultants have not even bothered to keep up with the most recent research.

On the other hand, when AUC lawyers cross-examine intervenors or their experts, they ask very probing and leading questions that attempt to confuse the responder and/or attempt to raise doubt about their testimony.

When one attends numerous or many AUC hearings, it becomes very difficult to distinguish between the transmission industry and the AUC. And that’s because they are all in the business of getting new power lines and other transmission infrastructure approved – not in determining whether or not the new infrastructure is actually in the best public interest. Many AUC staff are ex-employees of electricity transmission or generation companies. And, as AUC spokesperson Jim Law said recently to the Medicine Hat News, “We get our money from the (power) industry participants that we regulate. We bill them an annual fee to cover our operating expenses.” Is it any wonder then that the AUC and the transmission industry work so closely together to get new transmission infrastructure approved?

RETA public interest photoThe AUC has a mandate to serve the “public interest”; unfortunately, it primarily serves the “transmission industry interest”.

So…when Medicine Hat area residents raise concerns about the costs associated with AUC hearings, they have every right to. Perhaps if the AUC were truly unbiased and listened fairly to all of the information submitted to it, intervenors wouldn’t mind the expensive process. However, the AUC is consistently biased in favour of the transmission industry that provides the AUC with its operating funds.

All of the costs, whether they be for AltaLink executives, AltaLink staff, AUC Chair and Commissioners, AUC staff, AltaLink’s consultants, and AltaLink’s outside legal counsel are paid by Alberta electricity consumers. In most cases, “whoever pays the bills, calls the shots”. Unfortunately, such is not the case when it comes to electricity transmission in Alberta. Is the system stacked against the residents and businesses who are concerned about living next to ugly overhead power lines with a multitude of negative impacts; and is the system stacked against residents, businesses and industry located across Alberta who are forced to pay high electricity rates to pay for unnecessary new lines? You bet it is.

We could not say it any better than Jayne and Mick Parsons in their recent letter to the editor (Medicine Hat News 2), “…However, if all the money from all these months of so called ‘public input’ had been saved, the lines could have been buried underground, as many of the developed and aware nations in Europe are now starting to do with these high voltage lines. This affects everyone, not just people living within sight of the lines. If large corporations are continually allowed to rape the Alberta countryside all for the sake of profits and the bottom line, what hope is there for the next generation?”

~ by RETA on October 17, 2013.

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