Albertans warned of power ‘price spike’

By Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald April 18, 2014

Alberta power consumers should brace themselves for a shock next month, warns the province’s utilities consumer advocate.

Electricity prices are expected to jump 30 to 40 per cent in May, costing consumers in Canada’s only fully deregulated market millions of dollars.

“We’re going to see a price spike,” utilities consumer advocate Rob Spragins said Thursday. “It’s almost a guarantee at this point. We want to let consumers know this is coming.”

Spragins said his office is drafting an alert to warn consumers and advise those who don’t have fixed price contracts to get on an equalization plan or fixed contract to avoid the price volatility.

But 70 per cent of residential consumers are on the regulated rate option or default rate, which is expected to jump from seven cents per kilowatt-hour to 10 or 11 cents depending on the electricity provider, Spragins said.

The average homeowner will see about a $25 increase on their May electricity bill, he added.

Fortunately, electricity prices are expected to drop to more normal levels this summer, Spragins said.

Premier Dave Hancock said Thursday he wasn’t aware of the situation but would ask Energy Minister Diana McQueen for more information.

He suggested the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) should deal with the issue, but industry officials and consumer groups say AESO triggered the increase.

The Redford government appointed a committee of PC MLAs to implement changes to the retail electricity market to reduce price volatility, but its initial report to the minister has not been released.

Spragins, whose office is a branch of the provincial government, said the price spike was sparked by AESO announcements of several planned power plant outages and the shut down of a major transmission line west of Edmonton that transports power from several major coal-fired generating stations in the Wabamun Lake and Keephills area.

A 500 kilovolt line, known as the 1209 line, is being shut down for 12 days in May in order for it to be connected to AltaLink’s high voltage direct current Western Alberta Transmission Line.

The outage announcements immediately caused the price of electricity on the forward market to spike and that affected purchases of electricity for retail market regulated rate customers.

AESO vice-president of operations Miranda Keating-Erickson said the agency tries to schedule power plant outages and line outages in shoulder seasons when there is an adequate supply reserve to minimize the impact on the system and the market.

“What we do try to do when we’re co-ordinating is minimize the impact on availability of supply so that it minimizes the impact on the market,” she said. “What we’re not trying to do is manage what we think the price reaction will be.”

Keating-Erickson said AESO decided that May was the best time to do the work that needed to be done.

“Based on the information we have, we do our best,” she said. “You can only look back after the fact to know what the actual impact is.”

But opposition critics said the agency should have done a much better job of scheduling the outages to protect consumers from being gouged by market traders.

“Without knowing any of the particulars, I can tell you there has to be a better way of doing this,” said Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin. “They have created a false scenario that will cost consumers millions of dollars.”

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said an energy super province like Alberta should have the lowest-cost electricity and natural gas in the country, but instead it has among the highest.

“The cost going up even more is very disconcerting,” he said. “It’s going to hurt seniors. It’s going to hurt families.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason said the situation is another example of how the deregulated electricity market doesn’t work in the consumers’ interests.

“It subjects them to sky-high prices and very volatile prices,” he said. “At the very minimum, the government should step in and ensure the price of electricity be fixed for that one month.”

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Chinook Area Land Users Association, Letters to the Editor Pincher Creek Voice

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 Pincher Creek Voice

CALUA: Review of SATR needs identification

Chinook Area Land Users Association, Letters to the Editor
Enclosed are two letters written by the Chinook Area Land Users Association (CALUA), a land owner group in the M.D. of Pincher Creek, to the Alberta Electric Systems Operator regarding the proposed “Goose Lake to Etzikom Coulee” (GLEC)  transmission line which would be a part of SATR.  CALUA met with AESO on March 13, 2014 to discuss the possibility of re-opening the needs assessment (NID) for this line.  The second letter is in response to this meeting.
Editor’s note: The original letters as reproduced below were addressed to Alberta Electricity Systems Operator (AESO) Calgary Place, Attn: David Erickson, President and CEO

First letter February 5, 2014
Dear Sir:
The Chinook Area Land Users Association (CALUA) is an active organization representing over 200 individuals and more than 80% of the land owners in Division 1 and 2 in the MD of Pincher Creek.
CALUA is writing this letter to express our deep concern as land owners and Alberta tax payers to future implementation of decisions arising from AESO’s Future Demand and Energy Outlook 2009-2029, and in particular, conclusions drawn relating to the South Alberta Transmission Reinforcement (SATR)  projects  in  Southern  Alberta.  Our  concerns  relate  to  the  fact  that changing economic trends, and projected changes in consumer patterns in oil and electrical demand call into question the conclusions in the report, which were based upon substantially different  economic  projections  largely  derived  from  historical,  high  oil  prices  prior  to  the economic crisis in 2008.
In December 2008 AESO submitted its original Needs Identification Document (NID) to seek Alberta  Utilities  Commission  (AUC)  approval  for  a  massive  increase  in  transmission  line capacity in Southern Alberta, most notably designed to tie-in wind power generation in three phases called SATR I, II and III.
CALUA is of the opinion that a review of the needs for certain components of the SATR project is warranted due to significant recent changes in oil demand, changing forecasts for energy requirements, and a growing awareness of the unfavorable economic and ecological characteristics of wind energy. At today’s pace of economic change, virtually all current developments indicate that the principles applied in AESO’s 2009 study are no longer valid. Combined with the current cost overruns in Alberta’s expansion of transmission line network, we believe that it would be prudent and in the public’s best interests to undertake a thorough review. To not undertake the review would be negligent.
We also believe that AESO is  feeling the pressures related to  the new trends given the information provided in AESO’s SATR update of August 2013 informing its stakeholders of the cancellation of the Ware Junction to Langdon substation SATR III component, and the delay of three further SATR components: i) Picture Butte to Etzikom Coulee, ii) Goose Lake to Etzikom Coulee (GLEC); and iii) Etzikom Coulee to Whitla. In addition to AESO’s SATR III cancellation
CALUA believes that the Goose Lake to Etzikom Coulee (GLEC) route is also not needed and that an upgraded transmission circuit can be achieved using existing routes.
Further, it is our understanding that the intertie analysis that relates to the tie-in requirements of AESO’s transmission line projects to British Columbia, the US and Saskatchewan apparently needs to be reviewed indicating to us that AESO is re-considering the scope of the SATR projects with respect to actual costs, power demand and grid capacity.
Whilst CALUA recognizes AESO’s strategy to  balance benefits and  costs in  the  wake of significantly increased costs in the build-out of Alberta’s transmission system is partly driven by longer than expected permitting processes, and higher than forecasted construction labour costs (e.g. increased costs of $200 million for the Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL), currently standing at $1.65 billion), we believe this only strengthens the need for a review of the 2009 study.
Understandably, it is difficult to predict long term trends, but inaccurate forecasts lead to wrong conclusions, and in particular when applied to long term investments they can do irreparable damage to an economy and its people. Lately, many fundamental trends have been emerging that were not considered in the 2009 AESO study, and CALUA believes they fundamentally affect the assumptions and conclusions made in the study.
Increase of global oil demand may be lower than predicted:

  • In 2006-2008 it was impossible to predict the shale gas boom which puts an enormous downward pressure  on  natural  gas  prices,  and  consequently, on  oil  demand.  The downturn is pinching provincial coffers, with royalties from gas expected to reach only $965 million this year, about one-sixth the 2006/07 levels used in the original 2009 study.
  • The profitability of oil sands is increasingly coming under pressure as fracking  has revolutionized oil and gas production in North America, paving the way for the U.S. to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer, thereby reducing its dependence on oil imports (including from Canada), and pushing Canada to find new  markets for growing oil production.
  • Recent developments increasingly indicate that global oil demand may not increase as predicted due to improved automotive technology, national programs to reduce energy dependence, China’s recently imposed policies designed to “leapfrog” the country’s transport system, changing driving patterns and an emerging variety of alternatives to oil as transport fuel.
  • Alberta oil will be landlocked for years to come (e.g. debate over Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Energy East), and the recent rail accidents in Quebec, North Dakota and New Brunswick have brought additional public pressure on the industry. In the EU, resistance against Alberta oil has been building steadily, which is reflected in the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive fueled by pressure from environmental activists, which is also growing.

The above mentioned effects caused discounts on Canadian heavy oil opening up a provincial government budget deficit. The lack of export pipeline capacity was repeatedly cited in price differentials that ranged from $10 to $40 a barrel during the year and reportedly costs Canada’s economy $18 billion annually. In 2013 alone, these effects are expected to result in about 6 billion dollars less in provincial revenue.

The need for grid based electricity systems may be lower than expected
  • Worldwide public pressure against subsidized grid-based renewable energy and  the required massive transmission systems is increasing. Examples are i) Australia’s push to fully abandon subsidized power generation and ii) Germany, once the poster  child of renewable energy has become the cautionary tale for Europe, an example of where the wrong  energy  policies  are  damaging,  perhaps  mortally  wounding,  its   economy, punishing  consumers  while  undermining  the  green  objectives,  of   reduced  CO2 emissions, it set out to achieve.
  • In 2014 German consumers will be forced to pay $30 billion to subsidize electricity with a real market price of $4 billion. Two thirds of the electricity price increase is due to new government surcharges and taxes to sustain renewable energy (prices per kWh, transmission fees, etc.). Per-household costs have tripled in the last five years and are likely to continue rising. Compounding problems, when the wind stops blowing the electricity  supply  needed  to  power  the  national  grid  is  becoming  scarce  pushing Germany into an increased use of fossil fuels leading to higher carbon dioxide emissions proving that wind energy is not “green”, when seen in context of permanent availability.
  • Public perception of wind energy’s inefficiency is growing. Based on AESO’s NID and its 2012 Market Stats an efficiency of 25% is a realistic assumption. CALUA is concerned that Alberta tax payers are being misled by AESO’s strategy to only advertise “nominal” wind  energy  production  capacity  whilst  effectively  only  25%  can  be  realized.  For example, compared to AESO’s statement that “at the end of 2012, generating capacity from wind power facilities totaled 1,087 MW which constituted 7.5 % of Alberta’s total installed generating capacity” the actual (real) wind generation was less than 300 MW which is equivalent to only 2% of Alberta’s generating capacity.
  • There is an increasing trend to develop decentralized energy production (e.g. gas fired power generation, such as the Shepard plant) and smaller, community based distribution concepts eliminating the need for large transmission networks with the associated line losses.

From all we can see, the current trend seems to be that natural gas will be the fuel of choice for the foreseeable future. Natural gas will help achieve climate goals and reduce CO2 emissions. It offers plenty of room for future development until decentralized, diverse energy generation based on renewable resources will take over. The power grid as proposed by AESO may be no longer be a sound technical option based upon the emerging global trends and the inherent inefficiencies in wind power and long distance electrical transmission.

Alberta as a province is in the same dilemma as any business owner. In times of uncertainty, spending money on potentially non-revenue generating infrastructure projects is very risky as it generates permanent fixed costs, uses up consumers’ disposable income, and reduces liquidity in times of need; all of which increase costs to consumers ultimately. The expansion of the transmission grid will cost billions at a time when royalty revenues are dwindling and its ultimate need will be subject to significant uncertainties over the coming years. In times of limited liquidity, expenses for questionable wind energy projects must be avoided.
The NID estimate for all three stages of the SATR project, which includes allowance for funds used during construction (or carrying costs) and escalation of $1.16 billion, was $3.44 billion. Given the province’s budget deficit of $6 billion in 2013 alone, and the cost overruns for lines already under construction, AESO should cut costs by eliminating non-essential components of the originally proposed transmission network.
As stated before, the current effective wind capacity installed in Southern Alberta is less than
300 MW. This power generation capacity can be handled by the existing grid. All of the existing wind farms are tied-in through existing substations. Between 2008 and 2017 the NID which is the basis for all SATR stages assumes only 320 MW effectively coming from wind (nominal 1,600 MW). In the same document AESO lists a number of not further substantiated wind interests with an overall effective capacity of nearly1,900 MW (nominal 7,500 MW). From this list at least one sizable wind project, the Wild Steer Butte project with an effective capacity of close to 200 MW (nominal 790 MW), has been abandoned by Shell due to unfavourable economics.
In the extreme South only two wind interests are shown with a combined effective capacity of less than 100 MW (nominal 470 MW). The southern leg of SATR II, the GLEC expansion is a 220 km transmission line designed to tie-in these 100 MW. AESO is seemingly aware that this line is over-designed as it is planned as a double circuit 240 kV single-strung transmission line. The cost for just this line is expected to be around $400-500 million.
Beside the fact that this transmission line is planned to run through the most pristine land of the Waterton Prairie-to-the-Mountain corridor the costs of $500 million are not justifiable to tie-in 100 MW of wind power.
We believe that it is a waste of tax payers’ money to tie-in a handful of wind farms with questionable economic features (low efficiency, low cost-to-benefit ratio, need for subsidies and huge footprint expressed in MW/acre (almost 2,000 times higher than the Shepard plant). In today’s world of cheap gas the installation of new wind energy farms is no longer an attractive alternative.
In a diverse world with a fast-paced, ever changing economic environment long term forecasts that support large infrastructure projects (e.g. transmission line grids) are increasingly becoming a concept of the past.
Clearly, the majority of the assumptions that drove the conclusions in the 2009 Demand and Outlook report are no longer valid, and as such, the conclusions in the report are also no longer valid. CALUA hereby strongly urges AESO to review the original Needs Identification Document based on the trends that have arisen since the original data was collected in the mid-2000’s and eliminate unnecessary components of its transmission line network to prevent irreversible, permanent financial liabilities to all Albertans. Some sober second thought now could save Albertans from a costly white elephant that they will have to pay for through their utility bills for generations to come.
Sincerely The Board and Executive
Chinook Area Land Users Association
Second letter March 31, 2014
Dear Sir,
The Chinook Area Land Users Association (CALUA) greatly appreciates AESO meeting with us in order to better understand our concerns, as expressed in our letter to AESO dated 05 February 2014. We met with five AESO representatives on March 13, 2014 in the Twin Butte community hall to exchange our views of the matter. The discussion revolved around technical, procedural and, at times, the emotional aspects of AESO’s proposed power corridors in the Chinook area.
In the following paragraphs we want to summarize the results of the meeting:
CALUA presented its case that the need for the “Goose Lake to Etzikom Coulee (GLEC) transmission line faces significant uncertainty due to doubts about the viability of wind power in the region and the reduction in wind interests along the planned route. During the process AESO was also presented with a map showing strong opposition to wind and transmission line developments by a large majority of constituents in Divisions 1 and 2 of the MD of Pincher Creek (the “Waterton Corridor”)
During the meeting, AESO confirmed that the wind efficiency factor is only 25-30%, meaning that wind farms can only deliver 25-30% of their “nameplate” capacity. In other words a wind farm rated at 100 MW will in average only produce 25-30 MW. This is fundamentally different to gas fired power plants which are designed to continuously run at nameplate capacity. Transmission lines for gas plants must therefore be designed for nameplate capacity and that means transmission lines dedicated to wind power generation are 3-4 times oversized.
AESO acknowledged the “per-MegaWatt” foot print (land used) of wind based power generation is about 1,800 times higher than for natural gas based power generation, which means that the projected wind farms would use up roughly 100,000 acres of land for an energy equivalent which can be achieved with a 60 acre area gas production foot print.
It was also mentioned that wind power, due to its unreliability and the continuous need for fossil back-up does not provide any real CO2 benefits.
AESO  acknowledged that  wind  interests  have  declined  drastically  since  the  2008  Needs Identification Document (NID) but stated that the “need” for the GLEC line was re-confirmed in its latest “AESO 2013 Long-Term Transmission Plan”. A copy of this document was provided to CALUA.
CALUA conducted a review of this document and has the following comments:

  • The 2014 overall energy consumption for the entire province of Alberta in 2013  is roughly 70,000 GWh. On page 60, the study states that at the end of 2012,  total generation capacity in the province was 14,404 MW. Industrial installations in average operate about 340 days per year (8,160 hours/year), and the 14,404 MW  generating capacity would be able to produce 118,000 GWh per year. This indicates that Alberta’s existing energy generation supply already exceeds the demand by 75%. This begs the question: Where is the need to add more generating and transmission capacity?
  • Based  on  the  same  document,  Alberta’s  overall  energy  consumption  for  2032  is projected to be about 115,000 GWh. Based on our reading this means that the current power generation is sufficient for at least the next 20 years. Based on page  60 the installed generation capacity is expected to grow to approximately 23,600 MW by 2032, which would provide 193,000 GWh – almost 3 times of the current demand and almost twice the projected demand in 2032. Again, we would ask, where is the need  for the additional generation and transmission capacity?
  • AESO’s 2013 Long-Term Transmission Plan document does not appear to take  into account changing realities. The original NID mentioned a wind queue of 7,500  MW nameplate capacity for southern Alberta. At our 13 March 2014 meeting and on page 88/89 AESO indicated that the current queue has been reduced by 75% to a nameplate capacity of only about 1,875 MW by 2032 a portion of which is located mainly on the eastern leg of the GLEC line. This significant reduction would further call into question the need for additional transmission lines in the Chinook area.
  • In its 2013 study, AESO frequently mentions the risks and uncertainties of  inaccurate predictions. The precision range of the study is described as being  accurate  within ± 30%. Given the information in the above points, ±30% really doesn’t alter any of the conclusions reached by CALUA in reviewing the document. Further, ±30 percent is really only feasibility level analysis and is hardly the confidence level a government should be spending large sums of public dollars on.
  • Page  29  states  that  “in  recognition  of  this  uncertainty,  the  2003   Transmission Development Policy provides direction to AESO to be proactive in its planning and build transmission lines in advance of need”. As a policy, it does not have the force of law and potentially puts AESO in the position of doing too much development, too far in advance.
  • 1,875 MW of nameplate capacity are equivalent to an actual capacity of only 470-625 MW within the next 20 years. Arguing that under the circumstances described above a C$ 500 million – 250 km single-strung transmission line to capture 470-625 MW of wind power which by design has to be 3-4 times oversized is necessary does not seem credible to the Alberta tax payer. The amount of power from all projected wind farms along the GLEC line could be provided by one (1) gas fired power station of the size of the Shepard plant.

From the meeting we understand that AESO is reviewing the NID on an ongoing basis and now, more than before, we feel strengthened in our belief that at least portions of the GLEC line are not needed. CALUA believes that it is unconscionable for AESO to continue on its proposed development path in the Chinook area and to forever compromise the majesty of the Waterton corridor by running massive 240 KV transmission lines through one of Alberta’s most scenic landscapes  for  two  minor  wind  development  when  other  alternatives  exist.  By  its  own statements AESO’s models are not designed to consider scenery. Since CALUA’s concerns are not part of the development considerations, we feel completely ignored by AESO, Altalink and the Alberta Government. With the vast majority of local land owners signed on and opposed to this development, we believe Government needs to step in and provide some balance to the discussion.

Once built, this majestic region will be forever compromised. CALUA recommends:

  1. A moratorium on power transmission development in the Chinook area until such time as a  current  needs  assessment has  been  done  that  accurately reflects  the  changing realities  of  wind  power  generation,  Alberta’s  power  requirements  and  the  broader desires of the population of Alberta to have some unspoiled vistas; and
  2. A mechanism whereby taxpayers interests are recognized before significant amounts of tax payer’s dollars are spent unnecessarily and in the absence of a compelling need.

Projects like this often have a significant momentum due to time and resources invested and frequently get done despite changing circumstances. It takes courage and leadership to back out of  such projects and we  encourage AESO, the AUC and the Alberta Government to demonstrate that leadership and courage, and do the right thing.
Sincerely The Board and Executive Chinook Area Land Users Association

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Damages could hit $160M in alleged TransAlta electricity scheme

By Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald March 26, 2014 6:38 AM

EDMONTON — Damages stemming from alleged electricity market manipulation by TransAlta Corp. could exceed $100 million, according to new documents filed with the Alberta Utilities Commission.

Alberta’s electricity watchdog, the Market Surveillance Administrator, claims a TransAlta strategy to drive up power prices cost electricity consumers and other utilities tens of millions of dollars while TransAlta reaped $16 million in profits.

“The MSA does not have a precise estimate on exposure to pool price and instead has shown harm relative to different proportions of total consumption of electric energy from the Alberta grid,” say new documents filed with the AUC.

The MSA charted an impact ranging from $40 million to $160 million, and that doesn’t include the impact on the forward power market.

The watchdog filed allegations of anti-competitive behaviour against Alberta’s largest utility last month, accusing it of staging discretionary shutdowns at six power plants during peak demand periods over 11 days in 2010 and 2011.

The supper-hour shutdowns on cold winter nights increased electricity prices by 10 to 60 per cent, and forced the companies that owned the rights to the power to scramble to purchase high-priced electricity for their customers, according to MSA filings. The shutdowns in 2011 triggered an emergency alert over the short supply of power.

TransAlta and two of its electricity traders have denied any wrongdoing and have filed complaints about the MSA’s handling of the investigation with the Alberta Utilities Commission.

“To be clear, we do not agree with the findings of the MSA, including the conclusions that there was market harm, and we will challenge those conclusions at the hearing,” TransAlta spokeswoman Marcy McAuley said in an email.

She said TransAlta will address all of the filings and related documents, “including those demonstrating that the MSA permitted the actions taken by TransAlta.”

The AUC is considering whether to hear the complaints against the MSA separately or together with the allegations against TransAlta.

If the price hiking allegations are upheld by the AUC, TransAlta could be fined up to $1 million per day and be required to reimburse consumers and affected utilities for their costs. It may also have to pay the cost of the lengthy investigation.

Edmonton-based Capital Power says the shutdowns cost it nearly $10 million alone. In Calgary, Enmax says it also experienced financial losses but didn’t specify an amount in documents filed to the AUC.

The electricity watchdog is also asking the AUC to consider TransAlta’s failure to immediately provide critical documents it sought in the investigation and to also take into account the allegation that the utility lost or deleted key computer hard drives.

The estimates of financial harm were included in updated allegations the MSA filed against TransAlta on Friday.

“This is essentially what we say is the evidence in support of our allegations of market manipulation,” said MSA president Harry Chandler.

In the 125-page document, the MSA says TransAlta’s complaints about its investigation are a delay tactic and the utility’s argument that its activities were permitted under market rules has no merit.

While power producers can in certain circumstances withhold their own power to increase the price — a strategy known as economic withholding — TransAlta had no right to withdraw power it was committed to supply to Enmax and Capital Power, the MSA claims in its filings.

“TransAlta has no right and can claim no right to deal with committed capacity as if it was its own property,” the MSA contends in the documents.

The MSA alleges in its filings that TransAlta manipulated the price of electric energy in Alberta by removing the committed capacity of its competitors at coal-fired generating units during tight supply periods.

“The purpose and effect of this strategy was to move prices higher in the power pool and to create uncertainty that would drive prices higher for forward contracts for electric energy,” the MSA states in its filings.

“The strategy was uncompetitive in that it relied upon removing significant amounts of its competitors’ committed capacity from the available supply of electricity.”

The MSA said the normal practice in the industry is to implement discretionary shutdowns during off-peak hours, usually on weekends.

But the MSA alleges TransAlta drafted a strategy on Oct. 21, 2010, that was approved by its senior vice-presidents, to time discretionary shutdowns to maximize profits.

In documents filed with the AUC, it quotes a TransAlta internal memo explaining the strategy with the following example: “Two units are down in the province and one of our units develops a leak. We take the unit down immediately instead of scheduling the unit off for the upcoming weekend.”

The memo adds: “Previously, we have shied away from setting price during tight situations because of the ‘optics’ of this.”

[email protected]

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Jessica Ernst in Lethbridge on March 25, 2014

Jessica Ernst in Lethbridge on March 25, 2014:

Experiences of an oil and gas industry scientist March 25, 7:00pm PE250 First Choice Savings Centre, U of L Free. (Donations for Jessica’s case graciously accepted.) Prizes for the children’s poster contest will be awarded at the beginning of the event. Come and join Jessica as she talks about her experience and shares her knowledge. Question and answer session to follow.

More on Jessica here -

Jessica Ernst, oil patch consultant with 30 years experience, is suing Encana, the Alberta government and energy regulator (AER) for negligence and unlawful activities related to hydraulic fracturing, and the AER for violating her Charter rights. Jessica’s statement of claim alleges that EnCana broke multiple provincial laws and regulations, and in 2004 fractured and contaminated Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers with methane, ethane and other chemicals. The claim reports how Alberta’s two groundwater regulators, Alberta Environment and the AER, “failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized.

In 2005, the Rosebud water tower was destroyed in an explosion caused by “an accumulation of gases.” In 2006, the government promised to provide safe alternate water to all harmed Albertans, including Jessica. “Whatever is necessary to be done will be done,” proclaimed then Premier Ralph Klein. Jessica’s water is too explosive to even flush toilets with; she’s been hauling water herself since 2008.

After hearing arguments in January 2013, Justice Barbara Veldhuis, the case management judge, was promoted by the Harper government to the Alberta Court of Appeal and not allowed to rule. On February 15, 2013, Chief Justice Neil Wittmann volunteered to take over as case management judge. Seven months later he agreed with the AER that it had complete legal immunity, even for violating constitutional rights, and did not owe Jessica any “duty of care.” Justice Wittmann ruled the AER can’t rely on its argument that Jessica is a terrorist in “the total absence of evidence” and that the AER had violated Jessica’s Charter rights, but to prevent others coming “to the litigation process dressed in their Charter clothes whenever possible” he ruled against her. Jessica’s Appeal Factum was filed in the Alberta Court of Appeal; Jessica’s lawyers will have 45 minutes to present their arguments to a panel of three judges on May 8, 2014, in Calgary.

Justice Wittmann rejected the government’s attempts to have paragraphs stuck from the claim that mention “contamination” and other contaminated water wells in Rosebud. Subsequently, after waiting nearly three years, the government applied to have Jessica’s entire claim struck, arguing “no duty of care” and immunity. Justice Wittmann granted the government’s late request. That hearing is on April 16, 2014 in Drumheller to be heard by Justice Wittmann. Encana filed no applications to strike and argued nothing in court.”

Jessica’s response to the government was recently filed and claims that the approach taken by Alberta Environment is an abuse of process and should be dismissed


Come and join Jessica as she talks about her experience and shares her knowledge.


Sponsored by No Drilling Lethbridge –


Council of Canadians Lethbridge and District Chapter
[email protected]


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Innisfail Says AltaLink’s Proposed Transmission Lines “Not Attractive”

Innisfail Says AltaLink’s Proposed Transmission Lines “Not Attractive”

RETA Innisfail town logo sunCraig Teal, the Town of Innisfail’s Director of Planning & Operational Services, says high voltage power lines are “not attractive” (aka ugly). Teal testified at an Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing on AltaLink’s proposed 80L high voltage transmission line that would run through Innisfail (Innisfail Province). Specifically, Teal said, “We object to the route in the south end of town as transmission lines are not attractive, and we want to ensure we are able to attract investment and interest from businesses…Transmission line land competes with residential development.” Teal also raised concerns about a new transmission line decreasing property values and resulting in lower tax revenues for the town. He suggested an alternate route through a planned industrial area would have lower visual impacts than the route through a residential area.

See this link for more information on concerns about AltaLink’s proposed new line. If the line was buried, there would be no negative visual or property value impacts.

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More dead ducks found north of Pincher Creek

Pincher Creek Echo Feb, 27, 2014

By Greg Cowan, QMI Agency

A newly-built power transmission line just north of Pincher Creek has claimed more winged victims.

Dozens of ducks have once again been found dead under the AltaLink-owned power lines, this time by a contractor.

The lines are placed right between a popular waterfowl resting area by the Oldman River and adjacent to grain fields where the birds often feed.

It is a high traffic flight area.

Poor weather and low visibility were to blame in early January when David McIntyre, a retired forest scientist, came across the dismembered carcasses of numerous ducks and one Canadian goose.

Now, a new suspect has been made apparent in the mystery duck deaths.

Peter Brodsky, AltaLink’s external communications manager, told the Echo aviation specialists reviewing the scene witnessed hawks and eagles stirring up the resting waterfowl forcing them into the power lines at high speeds.

The birds of prey would then eat the fallen dead.

“I don’t want to make it sound like the raptors are completely to blame,” said Brodsky.  “We are looking at ways to mitigate the issue.”

AltaLink installed bird diverters after the last mass duck death to make their power lines more visible.

Now they are ordering and installing swan diverters, which are quite a bit bigger in diameter and painted a bright yellow, according to Brodsky.

It is a short-term solution while AtlaLink’s aviation specialists complete their report on the situation.

“We want to find a way for our lines and the ducks to coexist in the area,” said Brodsky.

Heavy fines have been issued to corporations before in matters of duck deaths.

In 2012, Syncrude was dealt $3 million in fines after 1.600 ducks died in tailings ponds near Fort McMurray.

No final duck-death toll has been issued, but estimates put the number well into the hundreds combining both incidents.

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TransAlta Corp. accused of manipulating electricity market

Calgary company denies allegations

By Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald February 26, 2014


EDMONTON — Alberta’s electricity market watchdog has accused TransAlta Corp. of manipulating the market by shutting down its power plants at peak times to drive up prices.

The Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA) filed the accusations before the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on Monday, claiming TransAlta “undermined the integrity of the Alberta wholesale electric energy market by engaging in anti-competitive conduct.”

It claims that on four occasions in 2010 and 2011, TransAlta shut down power plants during hours of high demand “for the purpose of increasing the pool price,” according to the documents filed with the commission.

“TransAlta’s strategy created market volatility, increased forward prices and consequently caused some competitors to become less competitive,” the documents state. “Other purchasers of electric energy in the power pool, such a residential, retailers or industrial loads would also have been affected.”

If the accusations are upheld, it could result in the largest fine ever in Canada’s only fully-deregulated electricity market. The commission has the authority to adjudicate the case and levy fines of up to $1 million per day and to require the offending utility to reimburse other market participants and consumers for their losses.

TransAlta has denied the allegations and filed a complaint against the MSA, alleging the watchdog failed to act fairly and responsibly in the matter. It called the MSA investigation “haphazard and contradictory,” saying the watchdog initially portrayed the conduct as “onside” before eventually calling it “completely offside.”

“The MSA failed to realize that as a market watchdog, it has a duty to be fair and forthright,” TransAlta states in a complaint it sought unsuccessfully to keep confidential.

TransAlta spokeswoman Stacey Hatcher said the utility is asking the AUC to look at all the facts and make a determination.

“TransAlta is very firm and very committed that we followed all the appropriate protocols,” she said. “We believe there has been some lack of clarity in the marketplace.”

Hatcher said the plant shutdowns were all for maintenance, operations or safety reasons.

“We’re looking forward to a full and fair hearing from the AUC,” she said. “We do stand behind our employees and we do stand behind our conduct and we will defend it.”

The Calgary-based power producer and transmission company, was previously fined $370,000 for breaking market rules in November 2010 by restricting electricity imports 31 times over eight days to create an artificial shortage and increase power prices. The fine, which stemmed from a negotiated settlement, drew protests from critics who said a $5-million penalty would be more appropriate.

AUC spokesman Jim Law said the commission hasn’t yet decided whether to hear the complaints separately or together, and no date has been set, but he said the process will be open and transparent.

Wildrose critic Joe Anglin said similar allegations in other jurisdictions would be heard in court — not in front of a quasi-judicial tribunal — and the consequences, if there are convictions, would be more severe than paying fines.

“That’s what is missing in the policing of our electricity system,” he said.

Anglin said the utility’s actions, if confirmed by the AUC, would have affected many consumers.

“This really hurts the average Albertan: senior citizens, people on fixed incomes, people with low incomes. It’s a crushing blow to businesses that have high, high energy costs, that don’t even qualify for fixed contracts.”

He said the ministers responsible for the electricity system keep saying the system is functioning well, but the allegations suggest “the system is not only broken, but has been broken for awhile.”

“It’s a complete disaster,” Anglin said. “They’ve got to get their heads out of the sand.”

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Electric rates will increase because of provider fees

By  Global News      Feb. 25, 2014

The city of Lethbridge has announced that residential electric utility bills in the city will increase about $5.50 per month starting in March.

 This means the average residential electric bill will increase by 4.7 per cent.

Small commercial rates will increase by 6.2 per cent and large rates will go up 6.7 per cent.  Industrial customers will see an average increase of 5.9 per cent, and rates will increase an average of 6.8 per cent for about a dozen of the city’s largest industrial customers.

The reason for the increase is the 29 per cent hike in transmission access fees charged by the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) to operate and maintain the provincial electric transmission grid. The new rates will take effect March 1, 2014 under a new Electric Distribution Tariff bylaw which received City Council approval Monday.

“All Albertans are being affected by sharp increases in the transmission fees charged by AESO, and it appears those costs could double in the next five years,” said Mayor Chris Spearman. “We’re concerned about those proposed increases here in Lethbridge, as I’m sure many other Albertans are across the province.”

The Distribution Access fee collected by the City’s electric utility will drop slightly by 2.9 per cent.

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A Property Right with Sacrifice and Duty

Rick Strankman MLA Drumheller-Stettler

People come to Canada from all corners of the world for reasons most of us as born and raised Canadians would find hard to imagine. Whether it’s to escape poverty, oppression or to improve quality of life, Canada provides a balance of rights and freedoms that are protected by its citizens through the right we have to democracy.

It’s hard to believe that only 11.3% of the world’s population have what is considered to be “Full Democracy” and 37.2% of people worldwide have what is considered “Flawed Democracy.” Incredibly that leaves 51.5% of all people living under governments that do not allow any form of democracy that we, from time to time, take for granted. As Albertans we are blessed to be included in the 11.3% that have the liberty to choose our own representation.

Thankfully for most of us, the thought of living under a system where you have your leadership selected for you, is unfathomable. Sadly, in this modern day and age, for 88.7% of the people on earth a lack of democracy, is their daily reality.

Recently, the Drumheller Filipino Community inducted their newly elected President Cris Indozo, and their community council for 2014. These people came from a country half way around the world, whose governments in the past have been destroyed by corruption and cronyism, and elections that have often been marred by fraud and vote buying.

The enthusiasm with which the Filipino community in Drumheller celebrated the induction of their representatives gives an appreciation for how important this right truly is, especially to those that have had to do without it.

The duty to stay vigilant and protect democracy, even in a Full Democracy, falls to the beneficiary that fortunately includes all of us in Canada. Without vigilance, inevitably, a mentality that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the democratic rights you possess tries to take hold; that mentality is socialism.

Nineteenth-century French author and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, who was best known for his work Democracy in America, has a quote that describes how subtle changes can erode democracy. “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

More than 118,000 Canadians since Confederation in 1867, made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. Their sacrifices have protected our citizens from servitude while preserving our rights and freedoms. These are things a mere tenth of the world’s population is able to enjoy. They come from far and wide, they come for freedom, and they come for democracy.

The right to democracy is yet another manifestation of a property right that can be measured in terms of sacrifice. The sacrifice happens by defending it and it comes with a duty that can only be fulfilled by participation in it.

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Why we should bury the power lines

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 3:11 PM EST, Thu February 13, 2014

Editor’s note: David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of seven books, including a new novel, “Patriots.” This column is adapted from one that appeared in July 2012.

(CNN) — Congratulations: If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you still have electricity. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Americans hit by winter weather in the South this week couldn’t join you. And ice and storms making their way north threaten loss of power stretching to Vermont.

Why do Americans tolerate such outages?

They are not inevitable. The German power grid has outages at an average rate of 21 minutes per year.

The winds may howl. The trees may fall. But in Germany, the lights stay on.

There’s no Teutonic engineering magic to this impressive record. It’s achieved by a very simple decision: Germany buries almost all of its low-voltage and medium-voltage power lines, the lines that serve individual homes and apartments. Americans could do the same. They have chosen not to.

Electric users ask: Why not put power lines underground?

The choice has been made for reasons of cost. The industry rule of thumb is that it costs about 10 times as much to bury wire as to string wire overhead: up to $1 million per mile, industry representatives claim. Since American cities are much less dense than European ones, there would be a lot more wire to string to serve a U.S. population than a European one.

1. There’s reason to think that industry estimates of the cost of burying wires are inflated. While the U.S. industry guesstimates costs, a large-scale study of the problem conducted recently in the United Kingdom estimated the cost premium at 4.5 to 5.5 times the cost of overhead wire, not 10 times.

2. U.S. cost figures are a moving target. American cities are becoming denser as the baby boomers age and opt for central-city living. Denser cities require fewer miles of wire to serve their populations.

3. Costs can only be understood in relation to benefits. As the climate warms, storms and power outages are becoming more common. And as the population ages, power failures become more dangerous. In France, where air conditioning is uncommon, a 2003 heat wave left 10,000 people dead, almost all of them elderly. If burying power lines prevented power outages during the hotter summers –and icier winters — ahead, the decision could save many lives.

4. As you may have heard, many Americans remain unemployed. Joblessness is acute among less educated workers, many of whom used to work in the depressed construction industry. Burying power lines is a project that could put many hundreds of thousands of the unemployed to work at tasks that make use of their skills and experience.

The Obama stimulus failed to produce many projects of lasting benefit to the country. Yet even now, borrowing costs remain low for governments and large ultilities. Burying power lines is a public works project for the 21st century that our children and grandchildren would appreciate — and that might save our parents’ lives.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

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