Strathcona County modified their stance on the proposed Heartland Transmission Line last week, arguing the proposed line should run through Sturgeon County instead.
Strathcona councillors made the tweak to their official position in advance of hearings scheduled for next month.
Both counties have applied for intervener status and allocated $400,000 in funding. The project itself is designed as a 500-kilovolt double-circuit line that will bring power from generating plants near Wabamun to the Alberta Industrial Heartland.
The line’s proponents, Altalink and Epcor, are bringing two possible routes before the Alberta Utilities Commission. Their preferred route will take the line south of Edmonton and into the Transportation Utility Corridor, passing through Strathcona County before heading into Sturgeon.
An alternate route, the companies’ second choice, would bring the line north near Villeneuve through Sturgeon County before heading east, running north of Morinville.
Sturgeon committed $400,000 to the hearing process and is advocating for the preferred route, which has the least impact on Sturgeon County.
Prior to last week, Strathcona, which has also committed $400,000, had been advocating for underground lines. They still want the lines buried, but they are now advocating for the line to follow the alternate route.
Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk said the alternate route has fewer schools, day cares, hospitals and residences near its path.
Osinchuk said Strathcona council has to advocate for their residents.
“I have total respect for Sturgeon and their argument and we are advocating for our residents.”
Sturgeon County Mayor Don Rigney said the county has always supported placing the line in the corridors that were designed for these sorts of projects.
“Our position is that if long-term planning principles mean anything at all, these lines should be put in a utility corridor,” he said.
Rigney stressed it doesn’t have to be the preferred route, but the lines should be in a place that has been allocated for them as part of a long-term plan.
He also said while he has concerns about Strathcona’s new direction, the argument over location misses the bigger picture.
“The evidence is enormous that these Bill 50 lines are not necessary.”
Under Bill 50, a piece of legislation passed last year, the government has deemed the lines to be critical infrastructure and a needs assessment will not be part of the hearing process.
Rigney said the county will be meeting with Strathcona officials soon and might change either its position or the resources it is allocating before the hearings.
Bruce Johnson, president of Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, a citizens’ group advocating for opponents of both routes, said Strathcona’s move is expected.
“I think it is understandable that elected people who are supposed to look after their constituents are likely to take a stance like that.”
He said he is concerned the proponents will try to play the communities against each other, but hopes both municipalities continue to advocate for an underground line.
“I would not for a minute doubt that the transmission companies will try and do that, they have tried to do that through this process. I am hoping people will not rise to that particular challenge and will instead simply say these things really need to go underground.”