Power line proposal draws hundreds to Sherwood Park meeting

Hundreds of people packed a meeting in Sherwood Park on Thursday night to come up with a strategy to fight the construction of a high-voltage power line near their community.

Hundreds of people packed a meeting in Sherwood Park on Thursday night to come up with a strategy to fight the construction of a high-voltage power line near their community.

The 500-kilovolt line would run above ground down the western edge of Sherwood Park, a community immediately east of Edmonton city limits.

"These towers would go within 100 to 200 metres of Colchester Elementary School," said Bruce Johnson, president of the residents group Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans (RETA).

"You simply cannot do that. It's irresponsible to that."

Sherwood Park is near one of four routes currently being considered by Alberta regulators. The line will transport electricity to an area known as the industrial heartland northeast of Edmonton and then on to Fort McMurray.

A decision on which route the line will take isn't expected until the end of the year.

About 500 people packed into the auditorium at Festival Place for the meeting Thursday, which was organized by RETA. Another 300 watched the presentation on a big screen out in the lobby.

People at the meeting expressed their concerns about the line's proximity to homes in Sherwood Park.

"Health-wise, it's a disaster," Ernst Tamm told CBC News. Tamm lives about 100 metres from the proposed route.

Even people who live on the other side of the community said they're worried about the effect of the line on their homes.

'It affects our property values': resident

"Whether it's over my house or not, it's in my community," said Tracey Laventure.

"It affects our property values as well," added her husband, Louis. 

Local politicians are also opposed to the proposed route.

Strathcona County council voted this week to oppose the construction of an above-ground power line near Sherwood Park.

The Conservative MLA for the area, Dave Quest, attended Thursday's meeting.

"I do not want to see an above-ground [line] close to residences or absolutely do not want so see an above-ground close to the Colchester school," Quest said.

Johnson said he would not oppose the project if the transmission line was put underground.

"We find that acceptable, providing it's engineered appropriately, safely, because there are also 16 pipelines in that utility corridor."

That option is impractical and expensive, officials with utility company Epcor and the Alberta Electrical System Operator said Friday.

Transmission lines can't be buried underground for long stretches because there's no technology to deal with the heat they generate, said Epcor spokesman Mike Long.

Buried line would hike cost 4 to 20 times: Epcor spokesman

Lines can be buried and then brought to the surface in shorter stretches, but that makes the project more expensive, he said.

"Some of the cost issues range from anywhere four to 20 times what an overhead line would be," Long said.

However, if it becomes a major issue in the public consultation process, burying part of the line may be considered, he said.

But the Alberta Electrical System Operator isn't likely to recommend spending the extra money to bury the power line.

"You know there has to be some due regard for costs here," said Neil Brausen, the Alberta Electrical System Operator's head of planning for the project.  

"That project cost is about $250 million to go overhead, so if you're looking to go underground, that cost would be in the order of $2 billion. I would say our recommendation in this case would be that we'd have to go above ground."

On Friday, Johnson disputed that cost estimate.

Only the portion near Sherwood Park needs to buried, Johnson said, adding about $200 million to the price tag.