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Jasper bows out of ATCO line process

by EVAN MATTHEWS | reporter@fitzhugh.ca

While the intent to observe remains, the Municipality of Jasper will no longer be listed as an intervenor on the proposed ATCO power line project.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Utilities Commission will move closer to a final decision regarding the proposed power line on Jan. 9, 2018.

At its Dec. 19 meeting, council voted to direct municipal staff to request a change from Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) intervenor status to observer status with respect to ATCO’s Jasper Interconnection Project.

Councillor Helen Kelleher-Empey has recused herself from all discussions relating to the proposed ATCO power line, as her husband is an ATCO employee.

“Both concerns have been… addressed and are no longer concerns, and therefore intervenor status is no longer necessary,” a report from CAO Mark Fercho to council reads.

As an intervenor, the municipality had access to all evidence and information filed which saves on legal costs, according to the report.

ATCOs proposed line would connect Jasper National Park with the Alberta Interconnected Electric System (AIES).

Back in October, council directed staff to ensure the reliability and capacity of the proposed power line would be the same or better as the current Palisades Power Generating Station.

ATCO retaining backup generation capabilities at the existing Palisades Plant and the Astoria dam would be an idealistic situation, according to the municipal officials, as would no loss of local jobs.

The municipality applied for and received intervenor status to satisfy the previous council’s concerns, according to Fercho.

Not satisfied

Not everyone in attendance was convinced the aforementioned concerns have been satisfied, as the information has yet to be made public.

Former councillor Dwain Wacko questioned what information could have alleviated concerns relating to reliability and capacity, after communities like Grande Cache — which is already using the AEIS — told former councillors the AEIS’ is less reliable than Jasper’s current situation.

“As a concerned citizen… the suggestion was that (Jasper) needs reliable power,” says Wacko. “Now (council) has been given assurances we’re going to have reliable power if the change (to the new power line) occurs.”

Wacko urged council to publicly release the information given to municipal officials that has put them at ease.

“I think if you heard the same answer as I did… I appreciate the question,” said Mayor Richard Ireland to his former colleague. “I can’t answer that right now… but council will discuss the extent to which we can share the information publicly, which we received through legal process… to be prepared for the AUC hearing.”

Fercho, though not able to elaborate specifically due to lawyer-client privilege, says much of the information received is already public and available via the AUC website, though much of it is within long, technical reports.

What’s next?

As with many energy projects — similarly to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project — the proposed ATCO line has both a federal and provincial regulator. For a project to go ahead, it needs approval from both the federal and provincial regulator.

Parks Canada is acting as the federal regulator, according to Steve Young, Parks Canada’s public relations and communications officer for JNP.

The AUC is expected to hold a hearing for the proposed ATCO power line on Jan. 9.

The only remaining intervenors are the Jasper Environmental Association (JEA), Kinder Morgan and an individual named Peter Bubik, according to the AUC.

The AUC told the Fitzhugh in November that the upcoming hearing will examine the project’s need, and its ability to serve the assessed need.

Parks Canada is currently reviewing ATCO’s impact assessment, according Young.

ATCO filed its proposed impact assessment to Parks over summer 2017.

However, documents obtained via freedom of information legislation and shared with the Fitzhugh show Parks Canada has been corresponding with ATCO regarding the project dating back to July 2013.

The documents show Parks Canada has been, at the very least, advising ATCO on what the company might have to do to ensure the project’s approval, according to the JEA, which has them scratching their heads.

“It is not Parks’ responsibility to assist a proponent in the preparation of a development request other than to provide a guide as to what the request should contain,” says David Hatto, a JEA representative. “Once a completed request has been received, then Parks should review it. Then a decision is made to approve, to reject, to request further information or to explain where the request is flawed, and ask for revisions.”

But Young says Parks Canada assists only in reference to the protection and interests of Jasper National Park, not the proponent. Things like impacts on natural resources and visitor enjoyment are primary concerns for Parks Canada, he says.

“It isn’t our role to determine whether or not it impacts people’s power bills. This is 45 kilometres of power line proposed. Advising them about the route, for instance, well, we want to make sure the route doesn’t affect the visual beauty of Jasper National Park,” says Young. “It’s an important role. We don’t want lines in places that minimize visibility, or cause disturbance to park resources and wildlife.”

As the federal regulator, Parks Canada can deny the project completely separate from the AUC’s findings, though the project needs approval from both Parks Canada and the AUC in order for it to go ahead.

Background on proposed line

The project will see construction of a new 45-kilometre transmission line — a 69-kiloVolt single circuit — connecting Jasper to a separate transmission line near the east gate, while also including the construction of a new substation located near the existing Palisades Power Plant, which is roughly eight kilometres north of town.

Should the project go ahead, the Palisades Power Plant, which currently supplies the bulk of Jasper’s electricity, will be decommissioned and torn down.

According to ATCO, the power plant is nearing the end of its operational lifespan and needs to be replaced.

Four-hundred-and-eighty-three wood poles up to 19 metres high will carry the new transmission line, which the JEA alleges will be visible for a large part of the proposed route along the Athabasca Valley, “particularly on the open slopes on the west side of Jasper Lake, and along the Snaring Road between two wetlands.”

ATCO originally expected the transmission line to go into service in May 2018 following construction over the fall and winter we’re now in the midst of. The company has not provided an updated timeline.

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