Thursday, December 16, 2010

Electricity should be reliable, not expensive

Letter to Editor, St. Albert Gazette, Dec 15, 2010

Instead of providing the kind of detailed studies Albertans should expect before spending some $600 million on the Heartland Transmission Project, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) resorts to its worn-out hand-waving arguments about mom, apple pie and the need for lots and lots of wires.
AESO says it must build a robust transmission system in advance of need, so a really important question is how much in advance? The customers the Heartland line is supposed to serve have said the line won’t be needed for 20 years, if ever.
It’s ironic that AESO says its plan gives industry the confidence to do business in the province when that very industry is saying excessive infrastructure like the Heartland project will result in unnecessary costs, job losses and industry leaving Alberta. If the AESO won’t listen to those who are supposedly responsible for much of the projected load growth, how can we possibly have any confidence in their forecasts?
With regard to AESO’s mandate to ensure that generators can get their product to market, how many other businesses in Alberta have their delivery costs paid directly by Albertans, regardless of how far away they locate from their customers? Answer — none, because it defies common sense, not to mention the premise of a free market economy.
To justify the Heartland Project, AESO once again trots out its Gregorian chant that demand rises annually by ‘two cities the size of Red Deer.’ That is partially true, except AESO neglects to mention that most of Alberta’s load growth in the last decade was met by on-site generation. What’s more, with transmission costs set to skyrocket, self-served load will grow even more, further eroding any need for the Heartland Project. Even if the load in Alberta is going up, it is generation, not transmission that is needed. The recent announcement of a gas-fired plant near Sundance confirms that even TransAlta thinks gas generation will be a big part of Alberta’s future. The recent approval of an ENMAX gas-fired plant near Calgary confirms that generators can be built close to load. We need a reliable supply of electricity, not oppressively expensive transmission.
Another AESO chant is that Alberta has not seen a major transmission investment in the last 20 years. Yet, AltaLink’s balance sheets show an increase of $464 million in assets from 2008 to 2009 and of $856 million, or more than 100 per cent, from 2005 to 2009. So much for AESO’s “no major investments” claim, unless $856 million is considered chump change when you’re spending someone else’s money. No wonder I hear AltaLink’s vice-president Leigh Clarke every time I turn on the radio. After all, in addition to the $600 billion Heartland Project and that other $856 million, AltaLink was handed a $1 billion-plus project on a platinum platter by former energy minister Mel Knight. Apparently the need to tender public contracts ends somewhere just below a billion dollars. Or does that only work if a company vice-president (i.e. Clarke) is also on the executive committee of the Alberta PCs?
The AESO letter also talks about in-depth analysis. That’s rather odd because, of the in-depth studies I am aware of, none were done by AESO and all trash Alberta’s transmission policy. The University of Calgary study showed that the need for transmission has been exaggerated, and the lines that are planned will cost billions more than the obvious solution of local generation.

So you see, AESO seems to have nothing but hand-waving. And to spend $600 million on the Heartland Project, based on hand-waving rhetoric, is definitely NOT in the public good.

W. Pacholok, Sturgeon County

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