Thursday, September 23, 2010

What’s wrong with the transmission system?

By Joe Anglin
Neil Brausen, senior planning advisor for the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), recently wrote that Alberta’s population has increased over the last 20 years 45 per cent, from 2.5 million to 3.6 million and our peak demand for electricity grew by 180 per cent from 5,692 MW to 10,236 MW. Yet, over that same period, there was no major investment in the electricity grid. Brausen claims the Heartland Project is required to help reinforce the backbone of the electricity grid between Edmonton and Calgary,
Contradicting Brausen, AltaLink claims on its website that since 1996 generation capacity in Alberta has risen by 38 per cent and demand has risen by only 21 per cent. Clearly this statistic admits that generation is growing faster than demand. The University of Calgary has weighed in too, and its Departments of Economics and Electrical Engineering have released a study that says the two proposed upgrades between Edmonton and Calgary are economically inefficient and unwarranted. Presumably this makes the Heartland Project unnecessary, according to Brausen’s reasoning and justification for the Heartland transmission line.
Further contradicting Brausen, a report leaked by the Alberta Government’s own Utility Consumer Advocates’ (UCA) office claims the Edmonton to Calgary lines could be deferred several years, or indefinitely; again making the Heartland Project unnecessary. The UCA’s office summarized its findings by stating “Any assertions about transmission causing an imminent failure to meet peak demand, is not supported by the facts.”
Brausen claims there have been no major investments in the electricity grid, and yet in 2009 AltaLink invested $605.1 million in the grid. This is no small sum by any standard, and it reflects only one company’s investment in one year. Given the fact that the Heartland Project is expected to cost $300 million, this brings into question Brausen’s understanding and use of the term "major investment".
The University of Calgary agrees with the Utilities Consumer’s Office and has found that this project is not critical, and may not be needed. Yet for some unknown reason the MLA’s have determined that they are better qualified to make the decision to approve transmission lines and God only knows why. There is no evidence to support that the MLAs are qualified. Do they have any understanding why unserved load and unserved generation are two metrics not even remotely related, in character or in magnitude? To make an informed decision before approving a transmission line, the “fact-based” debate should clearly differentiate between unserved load and unserved generation. Can the MLAs do this?
What’s wrong with the transmission system? Not a whole lot! It works quite well and like all systems, it needs to be upgraded and expanded on a regular basis. What’s wrong with the approval process? Our government has politicised the approval process and eliminated the universally accepted practice of having a technically qualified adjudicator (the AUC) make the decisions. We need to return the duty of approving the need for new transmission lines to the AUC, and we must reinsert into law a mandate that those decisions be made objectively and unbiased for the public’s interest.

Joe Anglin
Rimbey AB
(403) 843-3279

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