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Enviro Briefs

Chopper brings fireflies Birds should have an easier time dodging the Big Lake power lines this week thanks to reflectors installed by an iron dragonfly.

Chopper brings fireflies

Birds should have an easier time dodging the Big Lake power lines this week thanks to reflectors installed by an iron dragonfly.

AltaLink officials used a helicopter Thursday morning to put reflective coils and Firefly flappers on the transmission line that stretches over Big Lake. The installation was announced earlier this year.

As hundreds of geese swooped in for a landing behind him, AltaLink employee Wayne Hrushka and his crew hovered within a metre of the 138-kilovolt power line to hook some 500 flappers and coils to its shield wire.

The shield wire acts as a lightning rod for the rest of the lines, according to company spokesperson Lyndsay Thorlacius, It's so thin that birds have trouble seeing it, and has caused numerous bird collisions in the past.

AltaLink had originally planned to do this in 2005, according to the Gazette's records, but only managed to finish a small portion before stopping due to bad weather. The company then spent three years in talks with the City of St. Albert to move the line so fewer birds would hit it. That move is now on hold after the city declined to fund the move in its most recent budget.

AltaLink now plans to install about a thousand flappers on the lines at 10-metre intervals to make them more visible to birds, Thorlacius said. The flappers and coils are thought to reduce bird strikes by up to 90 per cent.

This is an interim solution until the line can be moved, Thorlacius said. "We'd like to relocate the line, and once we have the support of the City of St. Albert we will definitely do so."

Miles Constable, president of the Big Lake Environment Support Society, praised the company for its environmental efforts. "We're certainly looking forward to fewer bird impacts."

Crews plan to install about 350 more flappers on the lower lines this spring, Thorlacius said. This installation cost about $50,000, most of which went to pay for the helicopter.

Solar lights up downtown

Bottled sunlight will illuminate St. Albert this Christmas as the city tries out some new solar-powered light strings.

City staffers announced this week they will install 17 strings of solar-powered LED Christmas lights on trees near St. Albert Place and the business and tourism development building on St. Albert Trail next month.

City merchants liked the lights crews put on trees downtown each Christmas and asked if they could be left up all year, said Larry Horncastle, director of business and tourism development.

"The cost of running electrical power to each of those trees downtown was actually pretty significant," he said, as each needed its own extension cord. "There's got to be a better way that's more environmentally friendly." The city asked Gaia Energies, a local renewable energy firm, for a solution, and they suggested solar-powered lights.

Each light string has its own solar panel and battery, said company spokesperson Thomas Barr, and costs about $86. The plan is to leave them up for a year and have them on for about 10 hours a night to see how they handle the city's weather.

Solar panels actually work better in the cold, Barr said, so the lights should have plenty of power. "The one thing we're going to be cautious about is the battery," he said — these lights have never been tested in Alberta winters, which could eat into their lifespan.

These lights should help make downtown more attractive to pedestrians, Horncastle said, and save the city the cost of wiring up its trees.

Based on data from the Alberta Electrical System Operator, the Pembina Institute, and public works, the Gazette estimates these solar lights would use $44.65 less electricity and create 462 kilograms fewer greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to a barrel of oil — each year compared to the city's current Christmas lights.

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