Residents Critical During AltaLink Sessions - Pincher Creek Echo

Transmission system developer AltaLink held another round of information sessions displaying a new proposed route for their $500-million Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock project in Cowley on February 10 and Lundbreck on February 11.

The additional “stakeholder suggested” route would run 240-kilovolt wires south of Highway 3, paralleling a smaller, existing line and then head north after passing through a substation near Lee Lake, if it is approved. From there a 500-kv line would either pass Bellevue along Highway 3 or head up the North Burmis Road to connect to line running along the Livingstone Range.

“We’re not making decisions here tonight, just as we didn’t make decisions back in October,” Peter Brodsky said, a communications manager with AltaLink. “This is a preliminary process that allows us to get input from individuals directly impacted by the proposed line.”

Over 120 people attended the four-hour session in Cowley, Alta. informed by about 20 blue-vested AltaLink employees and a handful of AESO spokespeople.

A number of individuals and groups affected by the proposed routes have expressed scathing criticism of the project. Some of the mains concerns are that the project is overly expensive, tracks through pristine lands valued for tourism and is not justified by the needs document.

“We are pawns in our own community,” said David McIntyre, a resident and scientist who says his view would be compromised by one of the proposed routes. “We are victims that AltaLink has chosen, the relative few to represent society as a whole. So instead of addressing Albertans and telling Albertans they want to screw up and run lattice towers through an internationally revered and marketed landscape, they come down and tell a handful of people and try to pit neighbour against neighbour to get what they want so they can go home with hundreds of millions of dollars that we pay for.”

The Alberta Electric System Operator, the entity that plans and runs the province’s power grid, developed the needs document that was submitted to and approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission to justify the CRRCR project.

“We don’t even know if this is needed,” McIntyre said of his biggest criticism of the CRRCR. “AltaLink is here to tell us it is but we as a society have no idea. We have electrical engineers that tell us it’s not needed and yet AltaLink points to a needs assessment that was done I believe more than a decade ago.”

During the meeting AESO spokesperson Mike Deising said the newest iteration of the needs document is an amendment to the original and that the system’s operator reviews needs and plans every two years.

One reason behind the overarching Southern Alberta Transmission Reinforcement plan is connecting wind generation in the area to the grid and move that power to load centres, specifically Calgary. The AESO’s milestone for approving the CRRCR project was 600-megawatts of installed wind power in the area.

“We’ve far exceeded that, there are 457-megawatts that have been already constructed and almost another 600 in our connection queue,” Deising said, adding those extra 600-MW were in various stages of completion.

Deising also explained that the CRRCR line is not necessarily meant to export wind power to BC or Montana.

“That’s a very common misconception, Alberta is a net importer of electricity,” he said, adding that usually Alberta imports electricity five percent of the time and exports power one or two per cent of the time.

“We’re not setting ourselves to move power out. We need all the power we can get in the four corners of this province,” Deising said.

At the moment 1,450-MW of wind power is installed in Alberta and the AESO claims that could double over the next two decades.

The Livingstone Landowners Group, a collective of people living north of Highway 3 along the proposed CRRCR routes who oppose new power lines in the area has requested that the AUC and Premier Prentice reconsider the project. The group said in a news release that AltaLink is, “willing to deviate into environmentally sensitive lands” that could create “lasting harm” and is proposing at least one route that violates the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

LLG also advocates for underground power lines but AltaLink says that option is not even on the table due to their significantly increased cost.

“When you’re talking about high voltage lines of this capacity the underground excavation required, the concrete vaulting you would require around the power lines makes it an exorbitant cost related to complete a line of this size,” Brodsky said. “It just isn’t economically feasible to look at undergrounding this line.”

Simon Wood, a resident in the MD has written MLA Pat Stier and copied the premier regarding how the line would affect him personally. The new proposed route could run closely past his residence, with lattice towers that would be taller than the trees.

“When we built our house, I installed a solar electricity system. That’s right, I’m off grid. I don’t even get my power from AltaLink!” wrote Wood who is angry about the project and asked Stier to oppose it.

Stier attended the open house sessions in Cowley and Lundbreck.

“I think everybody here is very concerned about the amount of wind energy and the industrialization of this corridor is starting to become a more heard issue in my office,” the MLA said. “As AltaLink and the AESO decide how they’re going to continue to power up this area one has to wonder I think - and most of the people are saying this - just when is enough enough?”

Monica Field, McIntyre’s wife, spoke to the emotion of the people affected by the project.

“This process is destroying us,” she said. “It’s causing us so much anxiety and when you see a picture of where you live with the towers put on it and you think, ‘Can I still live here? Can I stand it?’ And you feel like running away screaming... It’s really awful to be in there and feel everybody’s emotion. They’re just so upset.”

Brodsky recognized that emotions and concern occur during these information sessions. Part of the sessions include a wall of handwritten notes with people’s thoughts on the project. The posted ideas ranged from “build it already” to “the AESO needs to be investigated by the RCMP”.

“What we hope to do is in the spring have a preferred and alternate route identified and at that time we could be back in the community to share those with the community members and get some final consultation prior to submitting a facilities application to the Alberta Utilities Commission,” said the AltaLink spokesperson about the next steps in the project.

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