Mayor, lawyer hail repeal of Bill 50
But still want Heartland reconsidered
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 31, 2012 06:00 am
Sturgeon County’s mayor and a St. Albert lawyer are hailing the effective repeal of the bill that let the Heartland Transmission Project get approved without a public needs assessment hearing.
The province tabled Bill 8, the Electrical Utilities Amendment Act, last week. The two-page bill strikes down two amendments the province made to the Electric Utilities Act in 2009 that allowed it to designate certain power lines and plants as “critical infrastructure” and therefore necessary for construction.
Traditionally, the arms-length Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) decided if a proposed line was needed and in the public interest by holding a public needs-assessment hearing — a quasi-judicial affair decided on by a panel of experts.
The 2009 amendments, known as Bill 50 at the time, let provincial cabinet officials do this instead, leading some to criticize the province for politicizing the process.
At the time, the province argued that this change was needed to speed the construction of four particular projects, including the roughly $610-million Heartland line, in order to prevent blackouts.
“The original concept around Bill 50 was that when people turn the lights on, the power was there,” said Doug Horner, MLA for Spruce Grove-St. Albert. “Regional generation is great, but you still need a grid to get it the places you need to have it.”
But circumstances have changed, he continued, and the province no longer needs this “critical infrastructure” power. As a result of a review of the bill ordered by Premier Alison Redford in the last election, the AUC, not cabinet, will assess the need for any future line project. “She’s followed through on her commitment.”
It’s a good first step, said Sturgeon County Mayor Don Rigney (a vocal critic of Bill 50 and the Heartland project), one that does a lot to restore democratic rights in Alberta.
“All we want is affordable, reliable power in a democratic Alberta,” he said. “Unfortunately, what Bill 50 gave us was prohibitively expensive power in a much less democratic Alberta.”
St. Albert lawyer Keith Wilson, who toured the province speaking against Bill 50, said he was also glad the province took this step.
“No other jurisdiction in the developed world has thought it was a good idea to have these complex decisions on electrical transmission be made by a political body,” he said. “(The province) removed the checks and balances from the system.”
Bill 8 would still exempt the Heartland line from a public needs assessment, Wilson noted, as well as the Western and Eastern Alberta Transmission Lines (the latter of which ends in the eastern part of Sturgeon County) and a proposed substation near Calgary – projects he said could cost taxpayers some $3.6 billion.
While the provincial Critical Transmission Review Committee has since found that the western and eastern lines are needed and should be built, the group did not review the Heartland line or the Calgary substation.
Wilson is currently involved in a legal challenge to try and get the AUC to open a new public hearing into the Heartland project. “If that hearing is reopened, it will become clear that there is no circumstance where building such a massive line makes sense.”
The Heartland region does need more power, Rigney said, but that power could be supplied by much smaller, cheaper lines that could be upgraded over time. “I feel we would have been better served with smaller, incremental increases rather than to try and build a massive, unconstrained (transmission) system.”
Bill 8 now goes before the committee of the whole prior to third reading.