Reader expresses concern about noise from power transmission line – Chronic, unaddressed noise from AltaLink’s 500kV line in southwestern AB

David McIntyre, Letter to the Editor
Note: This letter was originally sent to AltaLink President and CEO Scott Thon

My wife and I live on the eastern flanks of the Livingstone Range in southwestern AB. We’ve each written to you previously.

This past weekend, while hiking on my wife’s family ranch (Antelope Butte) on the north side of the Todd Creek valley, we heard, emanating from AltaLink’s—installed in ’83—500kV line, a loud, disquieting humming noise. It, at constant pitch, was approximately 100Hz.

We listened to this unrelenting drone as we hiked over Antelope Butte on March 16th, and were forced to endure it from approximately 11AM to 2PM. Logic would suggest that the sound, on the noted day, was occurring continuously, i.e., throughout the entire day and across a vast landscape, where rather dense ice fog was prevalent and where hoar frost was accumulating on most forms of vegetation.

Our distance from the offending 500kV transmission line varied from roughly 500m to more than 2km. The noise was so disruptive we had to speak loudly to be heard above it, and this caused me to wonder how migrating birds, or wintering ungulates, might be impacted?

The following day (Sunday, March 17th), while hiking near our home in the Rock Creek valley, we heard the same unrelenting, monotonous tone coming from the same 500kV line, but at a point approximately 15km south of the previous day’s observations. The day, unlike the previous day, was cloudy and the hoar frost was gone.

It was snowing as we hiked along the eastern edge of the Rock Creek valley, east of the North Burmis Rd. During this hike we were approximately 5km from the 500kV line, but again the disruptive, disturbing sound—constant—degraded our experience and caused us to focus on the transmission line at its closest point, a point we couldn’t even see, but a place entrenched in our minds due to AltaLink’s bulldozing, last summer, of approximately 3.2km of rough fescue grassland in order to create a new access road that’s approximately 8m in width … a road that’s just one of AltaLink’s new—summer of 2012—access roads in the area.

I’ve observed that access roads servicing AltaLink’s 500kV transmission line in this area of high topographic relief appear to be on the order of five times longer than the length of the transmission lines they serve. In other words, a 100km transmission line can cause AltaLink to bulldoze on the order of 500km of access road disturbance, and this often means destroying rough fescue grasslands and endangered forests of limber and whitebark pine, as well as propagating the spread of problem weeds across a landscape that, prior to AltaLink’s presence, was among Alberta’s most beautiful and productive rangeland. Please note that I’m referring to an internationally acclaimed, Crown of the Continent landscape that’s featured in provincial and international ads, a landscape on which two Hollywood movies and at least one segment of Travel Alberta’s acclaimed Remember to Breathe videos were shot recently.

I know AltaLink has received complaints regarding the noise its lines produce. The thing that’s most surprised me in gauging AltaLink’s response to these complaints is that the company representatives, based upon my experience, always appear amazed to hear them. It’s as if they’ve never heard of such a thing, and either can’t imagine what might cause the noise, or appear to question the validity of the report.

I’m aware that AltaLink, in an effort to respond to one of these complaints, asked a landowner to report when the lines were noisy so that AltaLink might attempt to monitor and respond to the concern. On the surface, this would seem to be a proactive response. But, this noted, my wife and I have been listening to this particular transmission line’s schizophrenic array of wailing, screaming, maniacal, snapping, popping and humming noises for almost three decades. We’ve heard these sounds throughout the headwaters of the Crowsnest and Oldman rivers, and we know that countless other people have as well. In fact, everyone with whom we’ve talked to about the diverse and disruptive transmission line noises is acutely aware of them. Everyone except AltaLink, the company entrusted with the building and maintenance of these lines. What’s wrong with this picture?

It appears obvious that AltaLink is determined to deny the existence of a maddening perennial phenomenon that exists wherever its transmission lines are erected, a problem that extends across the landscape and reaches far beyond the company’s ill-conceived measure of a landowner’s claim to a reduction in the quality of life due to his/her proximity to one of these high-voltage transmission lines.

I’m sure AltaLink can do better. I believe AltaLink is capable of responding in an appropriate and socially meaningful way … and I look to you to provide the leadership that will produce this outcome.

I also want AltaLink to understand, unequivocally, that transmission lines don’t ever fade into the background, and that the noise they generate, like their visual presence, is profoundly disturbing and infinitely degrading. Please recognize, too, that high-voltage transmission lines are inappropriate within a world-class, internationally acclaimed and revered landscape.

I will be sharing this message with friends and neighbors, with avian and terrestrial biologists, with rangeland specialists, with weed control experts, with the Livingstone Landowners Group, with members of the medical community and with the MD of Ranchland, the MD of Pincher Creek, the community of Crowsnest Pass, with ESRD Minister McQueen and with Premier Redford.

Please tell me how AltaLink is going to address the chronic problem I have described.


David McIntyre