Public hearings into north-south transmission lines could be put on hold

By Sheila Pratt, June 11, 2012

RED DEER – The future of public hearings into two new north-south transmission lines is at stake as the Alberta Utilities Commission decided Monday to consider postponing the proceedings pending a court of appeal decision.At the first day of hearings into Calgary-based Altalink’s proposed $1.4 billion-western line, opponents of the project argued it would “cast a severe shadow” on the proceedings to move forward without considering an adjournment while waiting for the court’s decision.

Given the troubled history of the project, including the 2007 spy scandal, the AUC should consider adjourning, said Jim Laycraft, the lawyer for landowners near Crossfield.

Also, if the AUC lets the proceedings move ahead, it runs the risk of having to start over again, depending on what the court of appeal ruling says about public interest issues, Laycraft said.

But lawyers for Altalink dismissed the concerns as “unfounded.

The hearing concerns the exact routing of the line, not the need for the line, and should proceed, they said.

Others said the court of appeal case, which arises from AUC’s approval of the Heartland line into Strathcona County, will not have general application.

The AUC is expected to make its decision later this week on whether to adjourn the hearing.

The AUC hearing for the east line is scheduled for mid-July.

No date has been set for the appeal court hearing. The case was launched by St. Albert lawyer Keith Wilson, representing landowners opposed to the Heartland line to be built by Edmonton-based Epcor.

In granting leave to appeal, Justice Ronald Berger wrote in late March that it was “imperative in the interest of certainty and consistency” that the court rule on the question of the scope of public interest used by the AUC in the Heartland case.

Last Friday, Wilson and Edmonton-based Epcor, which is building the Heartland line, filed documents with the court, outlining the questions the court should consider.

Scott Schreiner, spokesman for Altalink, said while the need for the north-south line is “clear and established,” the company “wants a fair process.”

Also, the AUC received another last-minute motion filed late on a constitutional challenge to the proposed new transmission lines.

If the lines will be used for export of electricity, the AUC does not have the authority to give approval as international trade is federal jurisdiction. Although the province gave the AUC power to approve export applications a few years ago, the province does not have the power to delegate that duty, said lawyer Donald Bur.

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