Alberta amends power line bill

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - The Alberta government has made changes to Bill 50, the controversial bill that has prompted sharp criticism for limiting the amount of public input into the construction of new electricity transmission lines.

Under amendments announced recently, the provincial electricity regulator must now consider the public interest when they decide where to put the lines.

It also establishes an oversight committee to give customers timely access to information on the projects. The amendments also allow for the staged construction of two high-voltage lines from Edmonton to Calgary and Edmonton to Fort McMurray.

Energy Minister Mel Knight said the changes were made to address concerns raised over the bill since it was introduced in June, but they came under quick criticism for not going far enough.

"They've added some kind of consumers' committee, but it's not clear that it's going to have any authority," said Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason. "And certainly it doesn't change the fact that these massive $14 billion worth of projects are mandated by the legislation."

Mason is calling for the bill to be scrapped entirely.

"We need to restore a proper regulatory process where the proponents have to advocate for these projects and justify their costs and others who oppose the projects or have concerns are allowed [to] intervene," he said.

The province argues that transmission lines should fall under the same criteria as infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals, that don't require public input if the work is critical.

Knight has said new lines, especially two between Calgary and Edmonton, are critical to avoid widespread electricity outages in times of heavy demand.

But well-known landowner activist Joe Anglin said the amendment calling for the staging of the lines puts that need into question.

"We never expected anything but staging of these projects. We never expected them to all be built at once. So to come down and say, 'now we're going to stage these,' the only thing it does it just tells the public the sense of urgency was never really there to begin with," he said.

The NDP also released a leaked report written for the Utilities Consumer Advocate that says the power demand forecasts used in the argument for the lines don't reflect the economic downturn.



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