Landowners who would be directly and negatively impacted by a new power line are concerned about the documented health, property value, environmental, visual and agricultural (crops and livestock) impacts of overhead high voltage transmission lines.
Alberta Powerline, a partnership between ATCO Electric (80%) and Quanta Services (20%), will be designing, building, owning and operating the new overhead Fort McMurray West 500 kV Transmission Project. The 500 kV single-circuit line would run from the existing Sunnybrook Substation in the Wabamun area to Fort McMurray, and would include a new Thickwood Substation in Fort McMurray and an expanded Livock Substation in the Wabasca area. Two routes have been proposed by Alberta Powerline – one through Westlock County and the other through Barrhead County.
About 40 residents turned out to an open house in Fawcett last week, and about 200 showed up at a Westlock open house last week (Westlock News). A concern by many landowners attending these open houses or who have contacted RETA directly, is the health risk associated with overhead high voltage transmission lines. An ATCO Electric staff member at the open houses tried to dismiss these health concerns by referring to Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO), both of which suggest there is inconclusive evidence that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) cause health problems. Although ATCO Electric and most other electricity transmission companies in Canada will cite the WHO or Health Canada as credible sources for information on the health risks of overhead high voltage lines, both institutions have been heavily criticized for being unduly influenced (a.k.a. lobbied) by powerful and well-financed electricity transmission companies for decades, to the point of being labelled as “corrupt” by experts who study EMFs and health problems. See this Fact Sheet on the WHO, this Fact Sheet on Health Canada, and this RETA blog for more information on the credibility of these 2 institutions.
The fact is, hundreds of well-researched medical and scientific studies indicate there are increased health risks of prolonged exposure to overhead power line electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and the corona effect. These risks would apply primarily to people living, attending school, or working near transmission lines, or who would otherwise be situated near power lines over a prolonged period. Studies have revealed many kinds of increased health risks, including: leukemia and many other cancers; Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease; heart disease and circulatory problems; nervous system disorders; retardation of fertilization, fetal resorption, miscarriages and birth defects; immune system deficiencies; depression; suicide; persistent mental disorders; male sexual dysfunction; memory impairment; decrease in visual and motor reaction time; fatigue, headaches and nausea; and behavioural problems.
Other concerns raised by landowners who have contacted RETA about the proposed new line include: property devaluation, visual impacts of unsightly overhead towers and conductors, environmental impacts, and negative effects on their agricultural operations (both crops and livestock).
Wilma Bailey, who lives west of Busby, attended the open house because the Westlock route would cut right down the middle of her property. She was very disappointed by ATCO’s open house format, and expected there would be a public meeting rather than a bunch of one-on-one meetings between ATCO representatives and landowners. Bailey thought there should have been an opportunity in an open forum to ask questions, rather than ATCO dealing with only a few people at a time. This open house format of informing landowners of new transmission projects is a common tactic used by most electricity transmission companies because they want to control the communication to landowners as opposed to having an open discussion where landowners can take turns asking questions and providing their comments, which generally results in a more collaborative, meaningful and honest exchange of views. In other words, transmission companies do not like to be in the hot seat, where they have to defend their remarks with facts and other credible data.
It’s interesting to note that the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) did not automatically award one transmission company the contract to build the proposed line to Fort McMurray, as they normally would, based on the traditional service areas of Alberta’s transmission companies. Alberta is essentially carved up by the AESO and big transmission companies into service areas – almost all of Alberta, except a few of our bigger cities, is serviced by AltaLink or ATCO Electric. AltaLink, which is now owned by U.S. behemoth Berkshire Hathaway Energy, serves the lion’s share of Alberta customers (85%). This traditional uncompetitive approach has resulted in highly inflated budgets and overruns to build transmission infrastructure in Alberta.
In September 2011, the AESO applied to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) for approval of a “competitive process” to build the Fort McMurray line, after the public had complained significantly about the “old boys” approach of the AESO simply handing over on a silver platter new transmission projects based on traditional service areas. The AESO proudly announced on February 14, 2013 that the AUC had approved AESO’s so-called “competitive process”. The only project to be awarded under this new process has been the Fort McMurray West 500 kV Transmission Project, whereas other new projects continue to be awarded under the traditional uncompetitive process. If we look closer at the awarding of the Fort McMurray line to ATCO Electric, it is questionable just how competitive it actually was. How much of a coincidence is it that the majority of the route for the Fort McMurray West line lies within ATCO Electric’s traditional service area, and the fact that ATCO – together with Quanta Services – was awarded the contract? Of the 5 companies (all partnerships) selected by the AESO to bid on the project, two partnerships submitted bids, one did not submit a bid, one withdrew their bid, and we’re not sure about the fifth. AltaLink did not even submit a bid, even though they were invited to do so. One would think that a $1.4 billion project would interest a company with as much Alberta experience as AltaLink. One can only speculate about AltaLink’s reason(s) for not bidding.