Landowners launch lawsuit to derail power lines

By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – The seven-year battle over two new north-south transmission lines could heat up again with a pending court challenge designed to derail both lines.A new lawsuit will argue the province had no jurisdiction to designate as necessary Altalink’s $1.5-billion western transmission line because it will be used to export electricity and, as such, falls under federal jurisdiction.

Two Calgary area landowners hope their lawsuit will force the National Energy Board to review both the western and eastern transmission lines.

The lawsuit will also argue the Alberta Utilities Commission did not have jurisdiction to require ratepayers to pay for the new lines or to approve the routes because the lines are under federal jurisdiction, said lawyer Donald Bur.

Both those decisions were taken by the AUC in December after hearings this summer into Altalink’s $1.5-billion western line from Genesse west of Edmonton to Langdon south of Calgary and Atco’s $1.4-billion eastern Alberta line ending in Brooks.

Amy and Neil Cunningham, who own land near Calgary, filed papers Friday requesting leave to appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

If leave is granted, the lawsuit could derail both projects, which are already under construction.

Altalink’s 350-kilometre western line would be built to handle 1,000 megawatts of power, but could be increased to handle 4,000 megawatts and would be complete in two years.

In an interview from Toronto, Bur noted that originally the Alberta government set conditions so ratepayers would not pay for the portion of any new power lines devoted to export. Companies were required to designate what share of a new line would be used for exports.

Since then, the province has continually maintained the new transmission lines are not for export but are needed to meet growing demand for power in Alberta.

The AUC has said the line is not an export line because lies entirely inside Alberta.

“They keep saying these lines are needed. But southern Alberta, where the lines end, does not need additional power,” Bur said.

This fall, in granting approval to Altalink’s western line, the AUC said the line is also intended “to restore capacity” to the existing tie line between Alberta and B.C.

That’s a clear signal the goal is to enhance exports to B.C, he said.

Alberta already imports B.C. power and exports power west when demand here is low.

An enhanced interprovincial electricity line would have to be approved by the NEB, just as the Northern Gateway pipeline to ship Alberta bitumen to B.C is the subject of an NEB hearing, said Bur.

The government has also argued it needs to reduce congestion on the grid, that there is too much power in the north and not enough capacity in the power lines to move the power to other areas where it is needed.

That may be the case, said Bur. But Alberta wants to reduce congestion by exporting electricity to B.C. or the U.S., and that puts the new lines in federal jurisdiction.

“If these are interprovincial lines, the utilities commission has no right to say ratepayers have to foot the bill,” he said.

The proposed north-south grid expansion was derailed in 2007 after a scandal erupted when private investigators were hired to spy on landowners opposed to the western line. The province aborted the public hearing process and in 2009 declared both north-south lines were critical infrastructure under the Electric Statutes Amendment Act or Bill 50.

That power to declare the lines necessary without a hearing was repealed last fall.

Atco’s eastern line will end in the small city of Brooks. That raises the question of whether an export line would be built later to tie the Atco southern power station into the U.S.

Bur noted when Quebec built its export line to the U.S., it was clearly designated as an international line and the Crown corporation paid for the line, not ratepayers.

An earlier map of Alberta Electric Systems Operators clearly shows a tie line taking the north-south grid into Montana.

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