AltaLink may choose alternate route for project

Written by Trevor Busch

Thursday, 07 June 2012 21:55

A proposed transmission line project which was planned to pass through the western area of the M.D. of Taber could now be re-designated to a different route farther west in the County of Lethbridge.
Recently, AltaLink announced that after assessing additional input from stakeholders, it is considering switching the original preferred route with the alternate route for the Picture Butte to Etzikom Coulee Transmission Project.
“I think that’s positive from my point of view — I’m sure the folks over in the County of Lethbridge wouldn’t say that,” said Coun. Don Johnson, who represents the southwest area of the M.D. of Taber. “And I understand that, just the same as our folks. As we dug into this thing, this is not truly an M.D. of Taber issue, but if it affects our ratepayers, then it becomes an M.D. issue.”
Under the current preferred routing, the transmission project would transect the western area of the M.D. of Taber, making a north-south crossing of Highway 3 near the hamlet of Cranford. The project would see a new transmission line connect the Picture Butte Substation to a proposed substation in the area north of Wrentham. From that point the proposed Etzikom Coulee to Whitla Transmission Project would head east and connect to the Whitla Substation (east of Highway 885 and south of Township Road 80).
The current alternate route, which is now being considered by AltaLink as the preferred route, would travel through the eastern area of the County of Lethbridge and make a north-south crossing of Highway 3 just west of  Tempest.
Johnson outlined some of the issues of concern that were raised by the M.D. of Taber with AltaLink over the preferred routing for the transmission project.
“We got fairly aggressive on this thing. As a council, we actually brought in some of the folks with AltaLink to come and meet with us. We had Shawn Kinniburgh in on the aerial spraying, which is a big issue. We talked about various alternatives, or profiled towers, that would allow them to get a little bit closer. Shawn actually came back in and did a presentation to us and showed us some of the challenges that they face in flying. Unless they have really experienced pilots, they don’t want somebody flying anywhere close to them. So you’re going to lose some crop production there, because ground spraying is not really an effective option, given the number of passes that you’re making with the potato crops.”
In conjunction with efforts made by the M.D. of Taber, Johnson also met with officials from AltaLink in Calgary and hashed out some of the problems with the proposed project which may not have been impressed upon the transmission provider through stakeholder consultations.
“I think that’s something that AltaLink had not thought about (aerial spraying), and we made that point very strongly when we met with AltaLink here in Taber. I did a follow up, I went to Calgary and met with some of their senior people up there, and I was fairly aggressive with them with regard to needing to understand what the financial implications are for these families who are farming. They’ve invested significant dollars there, they’ve been farming there for generations. You’re telling someone after all of that investment that they can’t grow underneath there? I don’t think so. We went back and forth, and they looked at the number of families, and I said there’s fewer families on the alternate route, and there’s not many potato growers on that alternate route — I think there’s one.”
The Picture Butte to Etzikom Coulee Transmission project would be a 240 kV double circuit transmission line approximately 66 to 80 kilometres in length. The estimated cost is approximately $160 to $250 million, which would amount to 16 to 25 cents on the typical residential utility bill.
AltaLink hosted open houses in January 2011 for the projects and has since been working to refine their original routing options using information gathered from landowners and environmental work. In December 2011 open houses were held in Coaldale, Stirling and Foremost.
Johnson admitted that during the meeting he presented the views of his ratepayers and the M.D. of Taber in no small terms.
“I made a very strong case, I had facts and figures and numbers on the cost of production. It turned out to be a very fruitful meeting, and to be honest, I had a very positive reception from those guys. They know the position I had provincially, and still have that influence. I made it very clear to them — if you don’t resolve this, then it will become a political issue. I’m glad to have played a small part — at the end of the day, it’s the M.D. of Taber that went to bat for their ratepayers.”
After consultation is complete, AltaLink will submit an application to the Alberta Utilities Commission for approval to build the new transmission facilities. If approved, construction is scheduled to begin in the summer or fall of 2013.
As AltaLink has only announced that they are considering switching the preferred and alternate routes, nothing has yet been finalized, but Johnson is hopeful of a favourable outcome.
“I’m really pleased for our guys. I think the M.D. of Taber probably played a positive role in encouraging AltaLink to re-think this. I’m really pleased, first of all on behalf of my ratepayers, and farmers and growers and producers in that area, because I think that it’s a good positive solution. And I think the impact on the alternate line is far less — I really believe that. I think the thing that people can take away from this in my opinion is that the council of the M.D. of Taber takes seriously a responsibility to try to help our ratepayers.”
More information on the project can be found at