As more information becomes available on AltaLink’s plans to build its new Cooking Lake 138kV Transmission Line, residents in southern Strathcona County are becoming more concerned and angry. AltaLink’s proposed northern route would see the line built along Highway 14 from Anthony Henday Freeway to a substation near the hamlet of South Cooking Lake.
Residents living along AltaLink’s proposed northern route have raised concerns about the documented impacts of overhead high voltage power lines on health, safety, the environment, property values, tourism, livestock, crops, aircraft and overall quality of life.
They have pointed out that an overhead high voltage power line built along AltaLink’s northern route would:
1. Run too close to the hamlet of South Cooking Lake, with a population of about 300.
2. Run less than 500 metres from St. Luke Catholic School.
3. Directly and negatively affect about 125 more homes within 800 metres of the line than along the proposed southern route.
4. Run right through the Cooking Lake Environmentally Significant Area.
5. Run right through the Bretona Pond Wetland Complex (a Buck-for-Wildlife Area)
6. Run too close to the Cooking Lake Airport which currently has about 10,000 aircraft movements/year.
7. Be at least 1.3 kilometres longer than the proposed southern route.
8. Require at least 10 more towers than the proposed southern route.
9. Cost much more to build than along the proposed southern route because it is longer and would require more infrastructure.
With respect to proximity of a northern route power line to St. Luke Catholic School (less than 500m), many Strathcona County residents will remember what happened to Colchester Elementary School when the Heartland overhead power line was built near it. 95% of parents had voted not to send their children to Colchester School if the Heartland line was built in the Sherwood Park Greenbelt because they did not want to submit their children to the health and safety risks of an overhead high voltage line close to their school. AltaLink and EPCOR favoured the Greenbelt route right next to Colchester School, and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) agreed with them, even though this route impacted over 15 times more homes within 800m than an alternate route (5,194 homes vs 342). The Alberta Government had also supported the Greenbelt route from the outset. Now the Heartland line has been completed and energized, and Colchester School has been closed down. The Alberta Government subsequently had to spend about $21 million to move the approximately 185 Colchester students to Fultonvale School. Unfortunately, AltaLink, EPCOR, the AUC and the Alberta Government would not support burying a section of the Heartland line in order to keep the school open.
If AltaLink’s northern route for their proposed Cooking Lake Transmission Line is selected, will St. Luke Catholic School also have to be closed down?
Several residents who attended the information meeting on May 5, 2014 at the South Cooking Lake Seniors Activity Centre questioned the AUC about how meaningful AltaLink’s public consultation process and the AUC hearing would be. They said, based on past hearings to determine high voltage power line routing, it appears AltaLink and the AUC have already decided where specific lines will be built before any consultations and hearings are held. The Heartland power line decision was cited as one such example.
The credibility and impartiality of the AUC was also questioned at the meeting. The AUC representative said that even though the electricity industry funds the AUC and pays AUC staff salaries, the AUC is an independent quasi-judicial body that is neutral. Most people in Alberta have witnessed enough examples of industry-funded agencies, including regulatory bodies, to know that “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. This is undoubtedly why 99% of the AUC’s decisions regarding transmission line routing are in favour of the transmission companies’ applications, with perhaps the odd minor change or condition. Many Albertans (e.g., residents, businesses, technical experts, legal counsel) who have been directly involved with AUC hearings have told RETA the AUC simply rubber stamps industries’ applications at the expense of the public interest.
RETA’s position with respect to construction of new high voltage power lines is that they should be buried to eliminate all the negative impacts of overhead lines. When you combine the capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs over the life of a line, underground lines are less expensive than above-ground lines.