Objections are being filed with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on AltaLink’s proposed construction of new overhead transmission lines and substations in the Ponoka, Innisfail and Didsbury areas (Innisfail Province 1, Innisfail Province 2). It’s all part of AltaLink’s $200-million plan to redevelop the Red Deer transmission grid.
The town of Innisfail is objecting to AltaLink’s preferred route, indicating it will have negative economic and social impacts on the community. The town’s Director of Planning and Operations, Craig Teal, says the preferred route will seriously hamper economic development in the town’s already challenged industrial areas, including creating an overhead hazard for the shipping of large industrial items. AltaLink’s preferred route would also cut through a future planned residential area. The town is essentially arguing that an overhead line would sterilize the wide power line right-of-way for any other economic or development uses.
Residents object to the new transmission infrastructure because they’re worried about the adverse health effects of overhead power line electromagnetic fields (EMFs), and the negative effects on the environment. Some nearby residents have complained that AltaLink has not even bothered to contact them.
Residents located along the alternate route have also objected to the overhead high voltage lines, arguing that this route would negatively impact a lot of people as well. Their property values have already been devalued by existing transmission infrastructure and they’re worried their properties will devalue even more if additional lines and substations are built.
Teal says both routes raise concerns for Innisfail. He said, “They could come up with a perfectly good third solution that resolves all of our issues.” Teal is correct – burying the new lines would resolve all of their issues.
An AUC public relations spokesperson, Jim Law, suggested the Commission takes all objections to planned electrical provider projects seriously. He suggested a hearing would look at all social, economic and environmental issues that may be of concern to the community. Anyone who has participated in public consultation processes and AUC hearings on new power lines knows this is not true. The AUC almost always rubber stamps the transmission company’s preferred route, with perhaps the odd minor rerouting of a tower here or there. Public input, including from residents and municipalities, is not seriously considered by the AUC.
AltaLink, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Montreal-based and scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin, has received approval to build hundreds of kilometres of new overhead transmission lines and substations in Alberta during the past 2 years. And, AltaLink has plans to build many hundreds of kilometres of additional lines. Experts have argued repeatedly that all of these new lines are not needed and that there is inadequate accounting for this new construction. Experts have also argued the high cost of electricity in Alberta, due to market manipulation and the high cost of new overhead transmission infrastructure, will drive industry and other businesses out of Alberta.