Court hears arguments on Heartland power line project – Judges reserve decision on Heartland Project

By Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald October 13, 2012

The Alberta Court of Appeal has heard arguments on whether a $609-million power line deemed “critical” by the Alberta government should be put to a regulatory test of whether the project is in the public interest.

The legal arguments heard in a Calgary courtroom on Friday could have implications for the future approvals of billions of dollars in electricity transmission line projects the province says are crucial to Alberta’s continued economic growth.

However, critics say the projects are part of a massive overbuild and the costs will be borne in the years ahead by already-taxed Alberta residential and industrial electricity consumers.

Opponents to the Heartland Transmission Project – a line that will run to the industrial zone north of Edmonton – argued a provincial regulatory body erred because it only examined the 500-KV project route before green-lighting the project last year.

They say the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) also has the jurisdiction to look at whether the controversial project – which is in the early stages of construction – is good for the overall social and economic interests of the province.

“Everybody already is talking about their power bills, how they’ve increased. And it’s only just started,” Karen Shaw, whose family farm lies adjacent to the proposed Heartland line, said outside the courtroom.

However, the Heartland project proponents – AltaLink and Epcor – and the AUC itself also appeared before the Court of Appeal panel to say the commission was correct in its decision.

Epcor Distribution and Transmission Inc. lawyer Kim Wakefield said the Alberta legislature has crafted laws that reserve for itself the ability to determine the primary need and public interest of a project deemed “critical.”

“The AUC does not have the power to look at the public interest,” he told the court.

Three Court of Appeal judges said Friday they would reserve their decision. But Wakefield said outside of court the outcome of the case “will give guidance to the AUC in the future on the parameters of the its role” in critical transmission infrastructure applications.

The Shaw family’s lawyer, Keith Wilson, also said the outcome of the appeal could have an influence on the fate of two other major north-south transmission lines now being considered by the AUC, and other transmission projects the Alberta government has said are necessary.

In February 2009, the government passed Bill 50 and declared several transmission projects, including Heartland and the two north-south lines, as critical infrastructure needed to upgrade the power grid to meet growing demand for electricity.

But earlier this year, the Redford government said it would introduce legislation so that responsibility for considering the need for future transmission projects will be assigned to the AUC.

On Friday, Alberta Energy spokeswoman Janice Schroeder said in an email she wouldn’t comment on any potential legislation, or the Court of Appeal case.

“We are not prepared to debate the issues from the sidelines,” Schroeder said.

Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin voiced his support for the Shaw family appeal Friday, and said it’s imperative that Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes release a 390-page report from an independent committee which reviewed problems with Alberta power prices.

Hughes received the report last month, but said he would review its contents before responding.

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Original source article: Court hears arguments on Heartland power line project