Utilities commission to proceed with transmission hearings

By Sheila Pratt, edmontonjournal.com June 13, 2012

EDMONTON – The Alberta Utilities Commission decided Wednesday to proceed with long-awaited hearings into Altalink’s proposed $1.4-billion north-south transmission line, despite objections from landowners calling for delay to await an appeal court decision.

The decision left some landowners unhappy, accusing the AUC of trying to “railroad” the hearings and warned this could set the stage for another court battle.

On Monday, landowners opposed to the line urged the AUC to hold off until the court of appeal gives its ruling on the whether the commission has the jurisdiction to turn down a transmission project “in the public interest.” The court’s ruling might affect how the board interprets what is in the public interest when it comes to the new line, they argued.

But the AUC said it made sense to proceed and “will save time and reduce prejudice to landowners who have waited years” to get started on the hearing to determine the exact route of the 350-kilometre 500-kV, DC power line between Wabamun Lake and Calgary.

“The parties are ready to go, the evidence is relevant, regardless of the Alberta Court of Appeal decision,” said the AUC, adding that hearing will resume today.

Joe Anglin, who has fought against the line for years and is now a Wildrose MLA, said the board’s decision was “irresponsible.”

“To proceed with a hearing when a superior court is hearing the matter of public interest is arrogant,” said Anglin.

The appeal court case is a test of the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, which gives the provincial cabinet the power to designate critical transmission projects without a public hearing to determine need.

The appeal case arises from the battle last year over the Heartland transmission line from Wabamun Lake into Strathcona County. At the time, lawyer Keith Wilson argued the AUC interpreted the definition of public interest too narrowly in its decision to approve the line.

Wilson then asked the appeal court to rule on the scope of public interest jurisdiction. In late March, the appeal court agreed to hear the case but no date has been set.

In that case, Wilson will ask the appeal court to examine the question of whether the commission can turn down a Bill 50 transmission line when the evidence shows the proposed line will do more social and economic harm than good.

In February 2009, the government passed Bill 50 and declared five transmission projects, including two new north-south lines, as critical infrastructure needed to upgrade the power grid to meet growing demand for electricity in the province. No public hearing was held to determine the need for the line.

The hearing for the second north-south line, proposed by ATCO, is scheduled to begin in mid-July.

In granting leave to appeal, Justice Ronald Berger wrote: “In my opinion it is imperative in the interests of certainty and consistency that this court pronounce on the issues.”

Wilson said he’s asking for the case to be expedited.

The first hearings into the proposed Altalink line were suspended in 2007 after a spy scandal. The regulating authority had hired private investigators to monitor people opposed to the line.

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