Power struggle

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chris Davis

  • AltaLink consultation sessions
  • Miistakis Conservation Priority Maps released
  • Property rights a rising theme
  • Related information
Landowners and energy developers continue to have fundamentally different visions for the future of southwestern Alberta, as evidenced by the continued opposition by many Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9 landowners to windmill and transmission line development in their areas.

Two strong advocacy groups have emerged, the Chinook Area Land Users Association (CALUA) and the Livingstone Landowners Group (LLG).  These grassroots organizations regularly bring their concerns to the public, to the legislative bodies, to the press, and to the MD of Pincher Creek council.

At the same time, AltaLink continues to hold regular information/consultation meetings at locations in the Town and MD of Pincher Creek, the latest being in Pincher Creek and in Lundbreck.

Neither side is blinking on this one.

Related but too much to try to pile into the scope of this article are the concerns of area environmentalists, particularly vocally expressed in the Beaver Mines, Castle and Crowsnest Pass areas.

The landowners represented by CALUA and LLG for the most part don’t want transmission lines cutting through their properties at all, and particularly not through new corridors. AltaLink has a mandate from AESO to pick a suggested route from several possibilities they presented to the public using large infographics.

New windmills are popping up all the time, and to be useful there will be transmission lines.  For some landowners, including collectives, the windmills are an economic boon.  To others they are an eyesore.  Concerns have been raised to the MD council in the past about blinking lights throughout once-dark nights, for example.  Noise is a concern. Environmental issues abound.  Certain species are literally running out of room.  Others are colliding with transmission lines and dying in significant numbers.  Bird diverters and markers have been installed in great quantity, and it’s winter again.  Will it work?

At the same time, power consumption is an ever escalating scale in the province where we’re squeezing oil out of sand as a prime economic driver.

What’s at stake, say the concerned landowners, is a landscape unlike any other in a world of dwindling landscapes.  What’s at stake, say the prognosticators and regulators, people paid to crunch the numbers and represent the results,  is a viable Provincial power grid in the relatively near future.

Complicating things, land use issues are coming to a head in Alberta and in Canada politics and jurisprudence.  The specific topic of windmill and transmission line development is acting as a crucible for legal arguments around land use reforms.  So is the opposition to logging in the Castle area, organized under the Stop Castle Logging banner.  The recently released South Saskatchewan Region Plan (SSRP) brought down its point man, former Livingstone-Macleod PC MLA Evan Berger, in the last election.  He was replaced with Wildrose MLA Pat Stier, who has voiced concern about landowner issues at public forums, in these pages, and elsewhere.  Stier has a background of ranching, oil, and rural politics in fairly equal measure.  Like Berger before him, makes the rounds of his constituency, which is of significant geographic size.  Stier attended the AltaLink session on October 24 after attending and speaking at the 2014 Wildrose Livingstone Macleod Constituency Association AGM, where he spoke with AltaLink representatives and area citizens.

AltaLink holds transmission line consultation sessions

AltaLink recently held consultation sessions in Lundbreck and Pincher Creek.  I attended the October 24, 2014 session held at Heritage Inn Pincher Creek.

According to a letter written to MD of Pincher Creek No. 9’s council dated October 10, 2014 and signed by AESO’s Matt Gray,  the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) has instructed Altalink to stop all activities related to siting, routing and consultation for the following projects:

  • Picture Butte to Etzikom Coulee Transmission Project (PBEC): A new substation, called Journault, in the Etzikom Coulee area and a new 240 kV transmission line between the Picture Butte and the new Journault substations.
  • Goose Lake to Etzikom Coulee Transmission Project (GLEC): A new 240 kV transmission line between the Goose Lake and new Journault substations.
  • Etzikom Coulee to Whitla Transmission Project (ECW): A new 240 kV transmission line between the Journault and Whitla substations.

AltaLink intends to apply to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to amend the approval of the projects “to ensure the need for transmission in southwestern Alberta more closely aligns with the pace of generation development”.

AltaLink External Communications Manager Peter Brodsky gave me the walk-through of their presentation.  “This is a brand new project,” he said, “the first round of consultations. It’s early in the process, nothing here is written in stone.”

“We are leaving it up to landowners and other people in the area to tell us if there are impacts that we may not be aware of based on our routing.”

The decision to cancel the previous Fidler to Chapel Rock transmission can be viewed on the AUC website in its entirety by clicking here.

Here’s an excerpt:

The AUC held a hearing in August 2013 and released its decision in January 2014, in which it approved the AESO preferred option. The AUC also stated that routing generally should be located south of the Oldman Reservoir, and once west of the reservoir the line may extend north but preference should be given to more southerly substation locations. – www.altalink.ca

Brodsky said that information gathered at the sessions, feedback from landowners, would be taken into account, balanced with cost, environment, existing infrastructure, and the practicality of the suggested transmission line route.

“We will be back in probably January to the same area for more specific routing and substation locations for more feedback,” Brodsky said.  “Landowner input all goes into the formula that we use to determine proposed lines we put before the Alberta Utilities Commission.”

“People are very passionate about the property around here, as they should be.”

“We are here to listen to the unique impacts our proposal may have and do our best to accommodate them.”

One of the mapped indicators illustrated on display was possible locations for the Chapel Rock Substation.  “There used to be a project called Fidler to Chapel Rock,” expalined Brodsky. “That’s gone away. This is a different solution for addressing the same issue.”

“What information do we need from you?” attendees were asked, categories broken down into Agricultural, Residential, Environmental, Cost, Electrical, Visual, and Special Considerations.

“Our goal here is to connect to this 500 KV line, provide power in the area, provide access for wind in the area, up into the grid.”

“It’s meant to address wind projects that are developed, or in the queue. These are firm wind developments that are going on.”

Alberta Electric System Operator Matt Gray was next on the tour.  He explained AESO’s determination that there was a need for increased transmission capacity in the area.  He told me there was currently “427 megawatts installed capacity in the Pincher Creek area” with another 658 megawatts in limbo.

“That’s what’s waiting in the queue to connect.”

“In Alberta it’s an energy only wholesale market, so generators compete with each other to sell power to the grid,” said Gray. “Our end of the arrangement is to make sure that they get connect, and that the system that they are connecting to has enough space to accommodate the uplink.”

“We hope to file by 2015.”

Their basic timeline:

  • Consultations fall 2014
  • Notify stakeholders winter ’14/spring ’15
  • File application with AUC fall 2015
  • Start construction if project is approved early 2017
  • Complete construction fall 2018
AltaLink is scheduled to make a presentation and answer questions and concerns at the next Lundbreck Citizens Council meeting on December 1 at 7:00 pm at the Lundbreck Community Hall.
Miistakis Institute releases Conservation Priority Maps

The Miistakis Institute was “founded in 1995 to build bridges between people, their perceptions and their information about this landscape”, and is the same non-profit organization that recently undertook Livingstone/Lee Lake and MD of Ranchland “residents mapping”. They have conducted a series of scientifically based environment impact measurement in Alberta over the last 20 years.

“Miistakis was initially a place based organization. We evolved out of a need that we recognized in a specific place, which is called the Crown of the Continent ecosystem.” – Greg Chernoff

On November 8 at Lundbreck Community Hall Miistakis Spatial Analyst Greg Chernoff  explained to an almost full house the freshly released Conservation Priority Maps, which are connected to the area overview released by Miistakis in December of 2012.  The maps illustrated pre-established conservation priorities overlaid on each other to assist in visualising area of low or high conservation significance.  It’s very complicated.   It didn’t always completely jibe with landowners who live in certain sectors of the mapped area.

He explained Miistakis’ reason for conducting the analysis.  “We were pulled into this by the LLG because the initial route was proposed between Fidler and Chapel Rock”, Chernoff explained after the event. “They wanted a way to represent the things that they thought were important elements of the landscape from an environmental and conservation perspective that they thought AltaLink was inappropriately considering.”

“If you look at any one of those themes in isolation then you may come up with an assessment of what the best option is”, explained Chernoff.  “Really, what we need to do is have some sort of a method by which we can look at all those different factors.”

“The question asked at the workshop very openly was what everybody recognizes kind of instinctively is that there is something very valuable in this landscape, and I asked ‘What are those things?’ and they told me. Some of those things had very much to do with the physical aspects of the landscape, ecological components, social values. Some of these things we can map, and some of them, we can’t.”
“If you look at any one of those themes in isolation then you may come up with an assessment of what the best option is”, explained Chernoff.  “Really, what we need to do is have some sort of a method by which we can look at all those different factors.”

“We just want people to have the tools to make their decisions. So when we put into the hands of the MD of Ranchlands that allows them to critically assess those things based on the criteria that are important to them.”

“Miistakis came to be as a recognition that the only way that ecosystem is going to be cared for is if we can encourage these people to come to the same table and recognize some kind of common objective.”

Responding to my inquiring if an LLG bias was inevitable in the data sets presented he was quickly and frankly affirmative.  “LLG is the organization that engaged us. They told us what was important to them that they wanted to map, and I mapped those.  It is 100% reflecting their bias.”

“That’s what these things are supposed to do, is show what the LLG thought those important elements were. I told them what I thought we could map with the budget that they had, and the results are the maps that you see.”
“We pride ourselves on being neutral. We want to encourage the more thoughtful consideration of ‘out of bounds’ between development opportunities and conservation priorities. We can’t do that if we bring an agenda to the table.”    Of course, in its own way, that’s an agenda of its own. “It’s really important that we try to be that honest broker,” said Chernoff at one point.
“We are not an advocacy group. We would cut every report short of the part of the discussion chapter that says ‘This is what you have to do’.

“You will notice that after my presentation was done, the discussion was about ‘What are we going to do with this?’ I would never put something to that discussion because from a professional standpoint, it is none of my business.”

“These maps are very, very valuable, and an important tool for organizations that want to take note.”

It cost LLG “a fair number of dollars” to commission the Miistakis project, and to host events such as this one.  Bruce Mowatt  is an LLG board member who lives up the Snake Trail, and has been a consistent voice at LLG events and presentations to MD council.  He told me that LLG, formed in 2004, was a response to the primary development concerns of the day.  “They were wanting to do some development with oil wells, and they were talking about drilling a well every 16 acres,” Mowat explained.  “It would be a disaster, a whole infrastructure. They would need to support those wells, service those wells, and service those wells,” Mowat added, including roads, machinery, chemicals, and noise as concerns.   “That’s what started our group. Ever since then we thought there must be ways to better do development.”

“Yes, they want to divide up communities, break up communities. There is not a whole lot of working together to build communities. People working together can accomplish quite a bit and achieve their goals. It works well, working together.” – attendee at Miistaakis Conservation Priority Map release

Property rights a rising theme

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox of the Wildrose Party recently released a press release in which he announced that the party would be introducing Motion 501 at the Legislature on November 24, 2014 toward the purpose of “urging the assembly to support entrenching Alberta landowner rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” and that Conservative Party of Canada Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer “is introducing a similar Motion in Ottawa”.

“This move would in one stroke ensure any current or future Alberta government respects the rights of Alberta property owners by cementing those rights in the Charter – Canada’s highest law.”

“The result would be that the government could not take actions under any law to diminish the value of property without fairly compensating landowners.”

“This kind of positive constitutional change is possible and critical for advancing property rights here in Alberta and across Canada,” said Fox. He also urged PC, Liberal and NDP colleagues “to join me in unanimously supporting this motion” because doing so “should not be about partisanship, it should be about doing what is right for Alberta”.

According to another Wildrose press release the amendment “would apply only to the government of Alberta in respect of all matters within the authority of the legislature of Alberta. The motion will act in concert with Hillyer’s Motion 520, introduced in parliament earlier this year, which asks the House of Commons to support an amendment to the Charter to enshrine property rights for Alberta”.

“Landowners are the best stewards of our beautiful landscapes and they deserve to have their rights fully protected so they can manage their property with minimal interference from government,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. “This kind of positive constitutional change is possible and critical for advancing property rights in Alberta. I hope that after Mr. Prentice’s campaign commitments this past summer, both he and his government will fully support this motion.”

Accoding to the Wildrose press release, if Motion 501 receives the support of the Alberta legislature, the passing of Motion 520 federally would successfully amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to enshrine property rights for Albertans.

Hillyer said that the passing of Motion 501 will send a strong signal to Ottawa and be a major victory for the cause of property rights.  “This is a fight worth fighting; but more importantly, it is a fight worth winning. I am thankful for the work of Gary Bikman and Rod Fox and my provincial colleagues who have championed this cause,” Hillyer said. “I encourage all my friends and colleagues in all parties in the legislature to step up and do what is right. With the full backing of Alberta, we will be one more step closer to cementing Alberta landowner rights in Ottawa.”

Related information
Notification of AESO Regulatory Filing Addressing the Need for the Windy Point Wind Energy Connection in the Pincher Creek Area


The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) advises you of its intention to file a Needs Identification Document (NID) for the Windy Point Wind Energy Connection with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on or after November 12, 2014. Windy Point Wind Park Ltd. (Windy Point) has requested transmission access for its proposed Windy Point Wind Generating Facility (Facility) in the Pincher Creek area. Windy Point’s request can be addressed by constructing a short single circuit 138 kV transmission line to connect the Facility to the existing 893AL transmission line.
The shaded area indicates the approximate area where the proposed transmission development is needed. In a separate application called a Facility Application, AltaLink Management Ltd (AltaLink), the transmission facilities owner (TFO) in the Pincher Creek area, will describe the specific routes and sites for the proposed transmission development, and request AUC approval to construct and operate these transmission facilities. The specific substation sites and transmission line routes applied for by AltaLink may extend beyond the area shown.
The AESO and AltaLink presented this need to stakeholders, including residents, occupants and landowners, from August 2014 to October 2014. The AESO has considered feedback gathered from stakeholders, and technical and cost considerations, and will apply to the AUC for approval of the need for this transmission development. Once filed, the NID will be posted on the AESO

Unhealthy wind turbine noise

According to a recently released Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study conducted by Health Canada with the assistance of Stats Canada, self-reported sleep disturbances, illnesses, chronic health conditions, stress, and quality of life “were not found to be associated with WTN exposure”.  However, “annoyance towards several wind turbine features (i.e. noise, shadow flicker, blinking lights, vibrations, and visual impacts)” was found ” to be statistically associated with increasing levels of WTN  (Wind Turbine Noise)”.

Random related quotes

This is an all-too-common theme of the public consultation and hearing process for construction of transmission lines in Alberta. Homeowner and landowner concerns about the negative impacts of overhead transmission lines on property values, the environment, safety, health and aesthetics are consistently ignored by AltaLink and the AUC. Many Albertans have characterized the entire power line consultation and hearing process as “theatre” – to give the public the perception that their concerns are listened to and taken into account, when in fact they are not. – retasite.wordpress.com

AltaLink’s continuing investment in new transmission facilities is delivering benefits across Alberta even before the facilities are commissioned. Communities in which AltaLink is engaged in construction activities are seeing positive economic impact from new employment opportunities, hiring of local services and contractors, and increased business for area hotels, motels, restaurants and stores. – Marketwired

Alberta currently has more than 800 megawatts (MW) connected to the grid. That is enough capacity to serve over 970,000 homes when the wind is blowing and the wind units generate at the rated capacity. However, due to wind blowing intermittently, the electricity generation from wind power varies over time. But even when considering the large variations in the wind power generation, Alberta’s wind generation is enough to provide for the electricity that over 310,000 homes use in a year. – www.energy.alberta.ca

“In Alberta, the winds of progress towards more renewable energy are still when they should be gale force.” – www.bnn.ca

In 2013, over 5 per cent of the electricity sold on Alberta’s market came from wind energy. That’s enough energy to power 1 in every 3 homes in the province. – windfacts.ca

Despite a world class wind resource, the know-how and the experience here, the growth of wind energy in Alberta is expected to slow down, in part because Alberta is one of the few places in North America that has no strategy to integrate more wind and other renewable energy in our electricity system. – windfacts.ca

There are good ways and bad ways to develop energy resources, and it is important that landowners ask the right questions, and get the right answers, to ensure they are satisfied with development. – www.pembina.org

Albertans were asked Wednesday to reduce power consumption in the wake of an unexpected power plant shutdown that has left the province’s electricity system “stressed.” – Calgary Herald

“While Alberta has developed and constructed many high quality wind energy projects, the province’s vast, enviable wind resource remains largely untapped,” says Robert Hornung, CanWEA president. – canwea.ca

I have promised Albertans twin imperatives: I will aggressively pursue responsible energy development at the same time that I will work to establish and enforce world-class regulatory and monitoring standards. I have also promised fiscal prudence and that government will not succumb to “subsidized environmentalism” — the funneling of public money to unproven schemes. Natural gas power generation is both less expensive and generates far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal. As they retire old power plants and replace or rehabilitate them, power generators will make the prudent choice. – Jim Prentice, Premier of Alberta (www.windconcernsontario.ca)

Related links and sources:
AltaLink route selection process
AltaLink Delivers Economic Boost to Alberta Communities as Construction Grows