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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tilting the wind in Southern Alberta


  • Survey trespass
  • Livingstone Landowners prod council for support
  • Oh those blinking lights
  • Intangibles
  • Anyway, the wind blows
  • TransAlta price rigging
  • Markets coalescing
Christian Davis

Survey trespass

The Livingstone Landowners Group (LLG) last week issued a press release titled "After denying access, landowners catch subcontractor hired by AltaLink trespassing on their property." In that release LLG stated that AltaLink subcontractor Stantec trespassed on the land of Dan and Rose Skierka while conducting a field study for the proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock transmission line.  The Skierkas have been participants in numerous public landowner issue discussions in the Pincher Creek area." *

 In a letter to AltaLink President Scott Thon the Skierkas said the trespass occurred on June 29, 2015 when Stantec was conducting a breeding  bird survey for the transmission project.  According to that letter, Dan Skierka and another landowner met with AltaLink representatives at the local Tim Horton's and at that meeting denied AltaLink access. "We denied the request for very legitimate reasons and subsequently filled out the six page 'AltaLink Land Form' to that effect," continues the letter. "We were assured that our position would be respected. The discussion and completing the forms took over two hours to complete."

On July 13 Thon wrote back, saying "I want to apologize on behalf of AltaLink for the recent trespass on your land. It was an incident for which we apologize and accept responsibility for our contractor."

"Our understanding is that you did not grant Stantec access to your land for any environmental  survey and therefore  it should not have taken place. We pride ourselves on creating positive relationships with landowners and regret that this incident has tarnished your view of Alta link. We understand how important your land is to you and appreciate that trespassing will not be tolerated."

Thon said AltaLink is "using this situation to identify gaps within our processes with contractors regarding land access. We absolutely do not want this situation to be repeated. Improvements to our process will be made moving forward to close any gaps."

"The individual who trespassed on your land has been removed from working on the Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Transmission Project."

"As you requested, no information gleaned from the unauthorized environmental survey will be entered into our database. We will also provide you with any data that was collected during the survey."

Thon also attached a letter of apology from Stantec's Ted Zuurbier. In it Zuurbier said Stantec "would like to apologize for this incident. We understand the frustration and anger that these incidents ause landowners and truly regret any adverse effects that this particular incident has caused Mr. and Mrs. Skierka".

"Going forward Stantec is imposing stricter protocols for our crews to follow when conducting surveys on the Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock Project in the future. Crews have been advised to be very diligent when accessing any property to ensure that the proper permissions are in place prior to access."

"All information that was gathered during the Breeding Bird survey on the Skierka's land in question will be removed from the record and will not be included in the Environmental Evaluation."


Livingstone Landowners get letter of support from MD

In February of this year LLG issued a press release which stated as its four key points:
  1. The Livingstone Landowners Group (LLG) does not endorse any AltaLink route proposals, as we are not proponents of a new power line in the area.
  2. Given the values at stake and recent changes in the electric energy sector, LLG has requested the Premier of Alberta to re-evaluate the need for this proposed line and consider whether it should be deferred or cancelled.
  3. The LLG has advised AltaLink that, should a line be built, it should avoid native fescue grasslands, environmentally sensitive areas and scenic areas that give the Livingstone area and Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) their iconic beauty.
  4. The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) sets clear direction that new development should minimize landscape fragmentation and be concentrated in existing developed areas. The LLG supports this policy direction.

*

In July LLG sent a delegation to speak to a receptive Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9 council.

"It's not that we're against development, we just want to see it in a balanced way that protects the environment, and is sustainable," representative Norma Dougall told council.

"In September 2014, Altalink announced plans to build a transmission line from Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock to connect a 1201 line, which is the big line that runs up to Calgary and down to the Crowsnest and over into BC."

"All three routes went into the environmentally sensitive eastern slopes of Livingstone."

Council was told route options and the project itself should be reassessed.

LLG avers that due to changes in the economy and other factors the planned wind turbines may not be erected even if the transmission line is built. 

"This project is based on a need that was identified eight years ago in the Southern Alberta Transmission Reinforcement (SATR) Plan by the AUC, and it was then approved by Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). Only AESO (Alberta Electric System Operator) and AUC have the power to review or cancel a project, once it's been approved."

Wind farm developments were waiting to be approved "but they needed the infrastructure to be able to send their energy on to market".

Changes in wind technology allowing for more local use are pointed at as a change in the way energy may be transported in the future - as little as possible. Unsteady wind energy in turn creates an unsteady flow, resulting in the "sporadic spikes that we create down here". It is LLG's contention that our unreliable winds create sudden gluts on the system, which in turn creates a drop in prices, a big supply that has to be bought and used immediately. It's called the Pincher Creek discount, with producers earning "about 20% less for their energy than elsewhere."

"LLG favours wind, and green energy, we just feel for economic, environmental, and aesthetic reasons there's enough here and this line in particular is not needed."

"This line has actually more to do with a behind-closed-door deal that was made years ago to provide or sell cheap Canadian electricity to the States, who were trying to get off of their coal burning plants but were happy to buy ours."

"The problem there is... their transmission lines run on a different frequency than ours do," thus requiring more infrastructure to work.

"Once again, the ratepayers for the electricity will get the honour of paying for the infrastructure being made, then the electrical companies will make the money off the power being sold."

LLG has decided to be proactive in their approach to the new Alberta government. "We will be following up with them sooner, rather than later."

In a February 2015 press release LLG said "Ongoing changes in the energy sector have resulted in re-evaluation and subsequent cancellation of other portions of the Southwest Alberta Transmission Reinforcement (SATR) that were previously considered necessary. In light of this, and given the significant environmental risks, the LLG has asked (then) Premier Prentice to order a re-assessment of the SATR including the need for new transmission capacity in our area. The risk of lasting harm warrants careful consideration of whether a costly new line is even needed."

LLG continues to bond with similar organizations, and asked MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 council to support LLG's request for a needs review of the transmission project.  After some discussion on July 14 council passed a resolution supporting that request.  An email dated July 20, 2015 was addressed to the President of AESO, with Reeve Brian Hammond as signatory.   It reads in part "As the proposed project has received several negative comments from our taxpayers,  and information  received would appear to indicate that the transmission line may no longer be needed, council requests a favorable response to the question of re-examining the need for the proposed line".

Blinking lights  

Oh, those blinking lights!  Landowners in the MD of Pincher Creek have long been lamenting the loss of their night sky to the synchronized warning lights atop many of the windmills out there.  Blink.  Blink.  Blink.

Citizen delegations have appeared before MD of Pincher Creek councils past and present to ask that something to be done about it. Former Reeve and Division 4 councilor Bjorn Berg was vocal in his concerns about the issue. Present Reeve and Division 4 councillor Brian Hammond has been vocal in his concerns about the issue. These days, Division 4 is a candle you can see for miles around. However, the issue is bigger than any one council, any one landowner group, and the power is in the hands of the regulatory bodies.

Landowners have asked for the lights to be less synchronised if they are to continue blinking.

Blink.  Blink.

Intangibles

The biggest issues for the landowners are intangibles.  Most are generational ranchers and farmers.  The lifestyle comes at a price, and the view ranks way up there in terms of payoff.

Southern Alberta landowner groups have in general adopted a very calculated process of using the system against itself by seizing on every manner of delay possible.  It's worked to some degree for some time.  Some projects that seemed like a given green light not so long ago seem to have fallen off the radar.

Numerous open houses have been held over the years in Pincher Creek area community halls and conference rooms. AltaLink open houses to show maps of proposed transmission routes. Q&A opportunities with AESO representatives.  Grassroots meetings at which the above mentioned landowner organizations formally formed and developed their strategies.  Like the entities they oppose, they wield press releases, not protest signs. They've united in a cause, they've shown up early for meeting after meeting, they've asked the probing questions.  Many of them grew up in 4-H, and 4-H teaches debate.

Landowner groups may have slowed the system, but there are still a lot of new windmills out there.

Blink. Blink.

TransAlta price rigging

The AUC decided against TransAlta in a price rigging/market manipulation case.  They timed power outages to drive up market prices. The AUC decision states in part TransAlta "intentionally took certain coal-fired generating units that it owned, that were subject to power purchase arrangements (PPAs), offline for repairs during periods of high demand when it was open to TransAlta to delay those repairs to a period of lower demand. The MSA submitted that TransAlta engaged in this conduct to drive up electricity prices to benefit TransAlta’s portfolio. The MSA asserted that this conduct restricted or prevented competition and restricted or prevented a competitive response and manipulated market prices away from a competitive market outcome."

That's given the Wildrose Party a bone to chew on.  It's more than a little early-game to blame the majority NDP government, so rarely accused of being friendly with Big Power.


Anyway, the wind blows

Here's a simple fact about southern Alberta.  Windmills have been good for business.  As the area combustible market winds down, renewables are one of the viable replacement enterprises.  Like the switch to canola, some landowners are cashing in, leasing windmill locations in hay fields, each with an annual income.  Farming the wind.

You can't beat the views from the top of those towers.   They're sleek, artistic, hyper-modern and retro at the same time.  LLG believes there's a point at which there's just too many of them and the infrastructure they require.

Related, the Southern Foothills Study, Phase 3 Report was recently released and got a thumbs up from the LLG.

Markets coalescing

According to Grid Integration in the West,  a report prepared for the Hewlett Foundation and the Energy Foundation, "On September 8, 2011 the loss of a single transmission line in Arizona initiated a cascading electricity outage that affected parts of Arizona, Southern California, and Baja Mexico. The outage left approximately 5 million people without power for up to 12 hours. A joint analysis performed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) determined that inadequate planning and deficiencies in real-time situational awareness were primary contributors to the outage."

The report posits the renewable industry's need to work co-operatively to create\interconnections to disperse power around the western United States on an as needed basis, creating the ability to better utilise the more quickly dissipating renewable energies.

The report also mentions similarities between the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), saying they "and a majority of the entities in the Eastern Interconnection have centralized markets and operations that are co- optimized to transact, schedule and dispatch energy, capacity, and a host of ancillary services that support the efficient and reliable operation of the grid. These regions transitioned to centralized sub-hourly operations and markets years ago to protect system reliability and optimize efficiency."

According to The Western Grid (headline: The Western US Needs Better Regional Planning to Modernize the Grid), "Holistically addressing Western electricity system challenges will require electricity providers, regulators, and a myriad of stakeholders to collaborate across the Interconnection. Sub-regions of the West are highly likely to eventually transition to variants of consolidated system operations and markets for both reliability and economic reasons."

Landowners have longed voiced the opinion that the southern Alberta wind power generation is destined for the U.S. market. Given the increasing interconnectivity of the continental marketplace, the need to use power before it dissipates, and given the huge U.S. hunger for power, that seems almost an inevitability.

* note: two passages have been removed from this article in the interest of fairness and accuracy.

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