If the option is there, most people would rather see a transmission line go underground rather than stretch across above ground from Pincher Creek to Lethbridge.
But according to engineering specialists going underground is not an option.
Representatives from Altalink and AESO (Alberta Electrical Systems Operator) met with landowners along the route of the proposed 240Kv line, which will transport power from Pincher Creek wind farms to Lethbridge.
A couple of routes are being proposed in the event that negotiations with the Piikani reserve, where the preferred and shortest route crosses, prove unfruitful.
The meeting was organized by the South Porcupine Hills Stewardship Association, which believes that Altalink should give more consideration to the underground option. The group cites examples in Europe and Australia where transmission lines have been successfully installed underground, without problem.
But Altalink spokesperson Scott Schreiner says the technology of putting this kind of line underground is so new, that its life span remains unproven and very expensive.
“Underground is not yet the most technically-ideal technology to serve the area,” said Schreiner.
The 170 kilometre underground Murrayline in Australia which was held up as a case study, he says is hardly a comparison, because it only has a 300-megawatt capacity. The new Pincher Creek to Lethbridge line will have a 1,250-megawatt capacity.
On top he says the new line will cost roughly five times the price of an above ground line, already estimated at around $125 million.
Because transmission line prices will reflect on homeowner billing rates, he said that Altalink is not prepared to put the additional cost of going underground on ratepayers.
But landowner Ken Walker who lives adjacent to the proposed route says that with 85 per cent of the Alberta market, Altalink should take the opportunity to become an industry leader in underground transmission.
“They could sell expertise to the rest of the electric market in North America. They should lead instead of follow,” said Walker.
He says that since the line is to deliver green power, maybe the transmission line should also be green. Walker says that underground transmission lines do not appear to be associated with EMS issues and cancers. In comparison he says that overhead transmission has been linked to severe health problems.
Ray and Diana Nadeau from the Porcupines group made a presentation during the meeting. They say that one of the alternative routes of the new line will cut directly across the virgin territory and native grasslands of the Porcupine Hills on the western portion of the line. Going underground is more environmental not only because it takes up less space than overhead, it also uses a considerably smaller amount of materials, say the Nadeaus.
The couple also say that going underground is more reliable, they cite studies in Australia which put underground transmission lines with 80 per cent less outages than overhead.
Not only that they have research that indicates underground lines do not lose any energy when they are overloaded, compared to overhead lines. Over a year, the Nadeaus say this can save around $7 million. They also say that maintenance costs over a 40 year time period are considerably smaller for underground lines than overhead.
“We are getting phone calls every day from people who have read about this issue in the papers, and everyone we have talked to agrees that an underground line would be a better solution,” said Diana.
“What’s the panic, why can’t we plan this a little better,” said Walker. “We don’t have black or brown outs in southern Alberta.”
Walker believes that the influence of stockholders in wind energy companies is holding more weight than that of local landowners who will have to accept the transmission line and its towers across their land.
But Schreiner says that there is an urgency to get the new line in service.
“Growth is creating a greater demand for electricity,” he says. “Alberta’s electricity demand is greater than any other province.”
By Jocelyn Mercer
23 March 2007
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