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TransCanada says power line would foster competition

2 October 2009 1,253 views No Comment

CALGARY – Politicians and pipeline giants waded into the Alberta power line fray Tuesday, each agreeing on the need for new transmission but at odds over the means to achieve grid stability.

Central to the growing debate around a controversial power line between Edmonton and Calgary and a legislative bill that would see the government approve such lines instead of the Alberta Utilities Commission is choice, the two parties argued.

TransCanada Corp. sees building a high voltage direct-current line between Edmonton and Calgary as increasing consumer choice by allowing more generation to come on line and reach wider markets, said Alex Pourbaix, president of energy for TransCanada.

“What transmission does for a load is it gives access to competition, you can get your generation from many different sources,” Pourbaix told reporters at the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “If there are very limited generation options, those options will probably take advantage of the lack of competition by charging higher prices for the power.”

Areas dependent on localized generation also run the risk of being stranded should that generation go down, he said.

The Alberta Electric System Operator has proposed $14.5 billion in transmission upgrades over the next decade, highlighting a high-voltage, direct-current line from Edmonton to Calgary as part of its critical infrastructure projects.

At the same time, Premier Ed Stelmach’s Conservative government introduced Bill 50 for first reading. It would hand the needs assessment for the system operator’s four critical transmission projects to the government from the Alberta Utilities Commission.

If the bill passes third reading later this month, it would put transmission in the same boat as hospitals and highways, according to the government. Detractors say it also takes away the public process and transparency.

“Bill 50 deliberately undermines and takes away thoughtful analysis and evidence-based decisions on our power future,” Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said in Calgary Tuesday.

While agreeing the provincial grid needed strengthening, Swann argued a transmission line was unlike other critical infrastructure such as hospitals or highways because power generators make profits from the sales of electricity that flows on the grid.

“No doubt the regulatory (regime) needs strengthening,” he said. “The AUC was set up to do this job, and there may need to be some changes, but why bypass that process all together?”

Swann acknowledged the minority party itself couldn’t stop the bill, saying the public needed to mobilize on an issue that will affect all Albertans.

The provincial regulator remained mum on the controversy around the bill, which would usurp the utilities commission from the needs process on transmission deemed critical to Alberta’s grid stability

“I will have to refer you to the province for any comment on Bill 50, through which the government proposes a different approach,” spokesman Jim Law told the Herald. “This is proposed legislation at this point, and the AUC continues to process both needs and facilities applications as they are submitted, under the legislation still in force today.”

The regulator had been working on a transmission upgrade since 2001, and put forward a high-voltage, alternating-current plan in 2004, before the province experienced a surge in power demand as its economy exploded. The proposal was abandoned in 2008 after a scandal around spying on dissenting landowners.

Energy Minister Mel Knight noted the government held a number of open houses across the province over the summer to discuss Bill 50.He said the bill was put forward to address Alberta’s pressing need to upgrade its aging transmission infrastructure, in the north and south, and that the cost was not an issue.

“Let’s get down to the nut graph, what is the real issue,” Knight said, “and it comes back to this thing about strengthening the corridor.

“The needs assessment was done in 2004, and I could not understand or tell you any reason why the need in 2004 would be any different from the need in 2009.”

Pourbaix said he would leave the decision on what kind of transmission line to build to the experts, but that a DC line would have a smaller footprint and have the capacity to expand without having to add towers.

domeara@theherald.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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