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Alberta announces $8.1 billion energy plan

Jun 8, 2009 - Richard Gilbert - Journal of Commerce

Billions of dollars worth of electricity transmission projects may soon start construction in Alberta.

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) has filed a plan with the provincial utilities commission to build several critical transmission infrastructure projects between 2010 and 2017.

“Our electricity system relies on capacity that was built in the 1970s and early 1980s,” said Neil Millar, AESO’s vice president of transmission. “We have applied improvements in technology to make the best use of capacity, but it is reaching full capacity and the end of its life.”

Alberta’s economy has experienced rapid growth, but major transmission projects haven’t been a priority.

Due to inefficiencies, $220 million worth of electricity was lost as heat from transmission lines in 2008, which is enough to power more than 350,000 homes for a year.

In response, five critical projects were identified.

“The AESO has established a long-term plan for the responsible development of transmission facilities in our province,” said AESO president and CEO David Erickson.

“That plan identifies Alberta’s enormous potential for wind, hydro and biomass, and adding those renewable sources to our generation mix won’t happen without adding transmission facilities.”

The plan includes the following projects:

• Two 500 kV HVDC high-capacity lines from the Edmonton area to the Calgary and South regions.

• One 500 kV double circuit AC line from the Edmonton area to the Industrial Heartland area (parts of Sturgeon, Strathcona and Lamont counties).

• Two 500 kV lines to Fort McMurray, including one from the Wabamun Lake area and one from the industrial Heartland area northeast of Edmonton.

• The strengthening of the transmission system in the south Calgary area, including an additional substation and/or new transmission line.

• New transmission development in southern Alberta to integrate wind energy.

“These projects will go full speed ahead as quickly as we can get them through the process and four of the projects are included in Bill 50, which is intended to redesign the needs approval process,” said Millar.

On June 1, the provincial government introduced Bill 50, the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, 2009.

Under the bill, the government will be responsible for identifying what transmission infrastructure is needed, while the Alberta Utilities Commission will continue to address public concerns about where transmission facilities are located.

This first group of five projects is estimated to cost $8.1 billion.

Many have been studied for some time as part of the long-term planning process, so technical evaluations and stakeholder consultation are well underway.

Millar said four of the five projects listed are covered by Bill 50 and are expected to be approved later this year.

The project aims to integrate wind energy transmission in southern Alberta is already in the regulatory process.

“The Heartland Project is designed to serve three needs: existing local generation in the area, accommodate upgraders that do proceed and as a jump off area for supply to Fort McMurray,” he explained.

“The 500 kV line to Fort McMurray will serve oilsands projects and at times be called on to export surplus electricity from cogeneration in the area.”

A project schedule takes into account the construction workloads.

“Each of the projects has a two to four year window, but it’s a matter of getting through site identification and approval of the projects,” he said.

The Edmonton to Calgary project is scheduled to begin construction sometime near the winter of 2010 with others to follow a couple of years later.

The plan also includes other critical transmission infrastructure projects in a less advanced stage of planning, with an estimated cost of $6.4 billion.

These include projects to improve Alberta’s interconnections with neighbouring provinces and states.

Upgrades and regional projects are also planned.

“We are working on 40 different regional strengthening projects, which are more low key but very important to the people in the area,” said Millar.

“They are bundled up in the long term regional transmission system plan at a cost of $ 3.8 billion.”