'Miscommunication' led to Heartland mix-up

The province now says only two major electrical transmission line projects will be put on hold, not three as initially announced Friday. Hearings will be suspended on two proposed lines running down the Edmonton-Calgary corridor.
Premier Alison Redford tells reporters Friday a request to suspend a decision on a controversial high-voltage power line was a mistake, due to 'miscommunication' between her and new energy minister Ted Morton. (CBC)

The province now says only two major electrical transmission line projects will be put on hold, not three as initially announced Friday.

In a letter to the Alberta Utilities Commission, Energy Minister Ted Morton stated that the government "is reviewing its approach" to the projects.

The projects under review are the Western Alberta Transmission Line through the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line from northeast of Edmonton to Brooks.

Information released by the province earlier in the day Friday said that the decision on whether to build the Heartland Transmission line, which would run from Fort Saskatchewan to south of Edmonton, would not go ahead Monday as planned.

Later in the day, Premier Alison Redford told reporters in Calgary that was a "miscommunication."

"We will be reversing our request to the AUC to delay the releasing of the decision with respect to the Heartland."

The province's electrical operator argues all three lines are necessary to keep up with growing demands for power. Farmers and landowners living near the proposed sites have been concerned about possible health effects and argued the consultations were not open to opposing views.

Opposition to the proposed power lines has been vocal. In September 2009, hundreds packed a church in west Edmonton to demand the Heartland line be put underground. (CBC)
Armed guards were hired to watch over two sets of public hearings for the Heartland line, a move the government said was necessary.

The province has not said how long its review of the projects will last or when public hearings will proceed.

Public hearings on the Western line were scheduled to begin next month, and for the Eastern line in January.

Jim Law, spokesperson for the Alberta Utilities Commission, said he hopes the government review will proceed as quickly as possible.

"I think that everybody is appreciative of the amount of time and effort that's been invested [in these projects]."

Review part of Redford's platform

During her race for the Progressive Conservative party leadership, Premier Alison Redford questioned whether two additional transmission lines between Calgary and Edmonton would actually be necessary for the province's electricity needs.

She said the Heartland project was necessary, a position she reiterated Friday.

Premier Alison Redford committed during her campaign for the PC leadership to review transmission line projects. (CBC)
She committed to change electrical transmission and landholder legislation to make public consultations on electrical projects mandatory, and to change the way landowners are compensated when lines run through their property.

The New Democrat and Wildrose parties reacted swiftly to the news Friday by calling on the government to scrap Bill 50, legislation passed in 2009 that was designed to make transmission line approvals quicker, but blasted by critics for eliminating the need for public hearings.

"Return this decision-making back to the hands of of an independent agency, do a proper a needs assessment, and give the security to ratepayers that they're not going to be stuck paying for electricity transmission that we simply don't need," Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told CBC News.

"Bill 50 has left the public with little proof these lines are needed, or what purpose they're truly meant to serve," Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason added in a release.