The sale of AltaLink by Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin to U.S.-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy, controlled by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett, is causing a lot of heated discussion in Alberta. The sale, expected to close December 31, needs approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and the federal government.
As the AUC hearing on the sale approaches, Albertans are voicing their opinions, the vast majority against the sale. ATCO President and CEO, Nancy Southern, was one of the first to raise a red flag two months ago about the impending sale. Yesterday, ATCO went a step further by taking out full-page ads in numerous Alberta newspapers, suggesting the sale was not good for Alberta. As interesting as the ad itself, the fact that ATCO sponsored the ad anonymously has added to the drama.
The ad in the Edmonton Journal read as follows:
We’re Losing Control
One of the richest corporations in the United States has made a bid to buy the electricity grid that serves 85% of Albertans
The pending sale of AltaLink to Berkshire Hathaway has serious consequences for the province we call home:
Loss of control of our critical infrastructure
Regulation oversight stops at the border
Potential for more power exports
If you think the Province and the Federal Government should conduct a policy review to determine who should own the infrastructure at the heart of Alberta’s prosperity, make your voice heard. Contact your MLA, the Federal Minister of Industry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or the Alberta Utilities Commission at: email@example.com
When asked about the ad, Southern said she’s not opposed to direct foreign investment in Canada, but the transmission grid is different (Edmonton Journal). She said, it’s the “lifeblood” of the electricity industry and shouldn’t fall into American ownership, beyond the reach of Canadian regulators. Southern also said Albertans haven’t had enough time to consider the deal and its implications.
AltaLink President and CEO Scott Thon, who was recently seconded for about a year to work directly for AltaLink’s current parent company, scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin, as interim head of SNC’s Global Power Unit, said the ads “smacked of self-interest”. He questioned why they were anonymous. “The only conclusion I can bring is that you want them to be anonymous because you want them to spread misinformation, and that’s what these ads do” he said. Thon has been busy trying to defend the sale, since the announcement in May, by writing letters to newspaper editors and taking out newspaper and radio ads.
Albertans will certainly be following the sale of AltaLink with interest. On one hand, leaving SNC-Lavalin which has been at the centre of multiple cross-Canada and international corruption allegations and charges for the past 2 years, might help AltaLink improve its sagging corporate image. However if the sale goes through, AltaLink will be owned by Warren Buffett whose business dealings have raised eyebrows in other contexts. For example, Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway is being heavily criticized for carrying up to 70% of all crude-by-rail traffic in North America, which is causing alarm among American and Canadian municipalities, as increasing numbers of derailments and associated spills, explosions and fires have killed people, seriously damaged the environment, and caused significant property damage.
It’s worth noting that, even though SNC-Lavalin would no longer be AltaLink’s parent company following the sale, under an arrangement that is part of the sale, SNC will continue designing, building and managing construction of AltaLink’s high voltage power lines in Alberta, as it does now. It is difficult to assess how forgiving Albertans might be of SNC’s long history of alleged bribery, fraud and money laundering.
For more information on the sale of AltaLink, see this link.