Alberta infrastructure minister had right to OK controversial power line: judge

EDMONTON – A judge has ruled against an attempt to stall a controversial high-voltage power line northeast of Edmonton.

The Heartland Transmission line was granted final approval by Jeff Johnson, who was Alberta’s infrastructure minister at the time, in November 2011.

The Alberta Utilities Commission had already approved construction of the line earlier that month, but it still needed official consent from the government.

The group Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, or RETA, went to court to apply for a judicial review of Johnson’s decision. RETA argued that Johnson was wrong to give power companies the go-ahead to begin building.

The group also argued the minister had failed to give reasons for his decision to declare the Heartland line “critical” to Alberta’s power needs and “deferred entirely to reasons given by the Alberta Utilities Commission for approving construction.”

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Darlene Acton dismissed RETA’s application.

“It is important to review the entire record of proceedings in this matter to determine first whether reasons are required and second whether the record discloses any reasons,” she said in her written decision.

Acton concluded that while the minister had no obligation to explain his decision, she was also satisfied “that the minister can be found to have given reasons as found in the record filed.”

The judge also ruled consent was properly delegated in law.

RETA acknowledged on its website that it is running out of options in its fight against the Heartland line. A challenge in front of the Alberta Court of Appeal was also unsuccessful.

“As residents … are aware, AltaLink, SNC-Lavalin and EPCOR have been busy building the Heartland towers and we are running out of options to stop this unnecessary power line,” the group said.

“It’s clear that the line will be completed.”

RETA goes on to say that future class-action lawsuits may be possible “based on a number of negative impacts of the line, including property devaluation and health.”

The 500-kilovolt Heartland line is to run through Strathcona County around Edmonton’s eastern outskirts to service heavy industry and other users to the northeast.

Linda Osinchuk, the mayor of Strathcona, and other area politicians have said it’s not proven that the extra power is needed and they worry about the line running near homes and a school.

At the time of its ruling, the Alberta Utilities Commission said its decision-making was affected by changes the government had made to electricity rules. Those changes altered who decided when a power line was to be built.

The commission had been responsible for making decisions after public hearings. Such checks and balances were considered critical because taxpayers fund the construction of the lines.

However, under former premier Ed Stelmach, cabinet was given power to unilaterally order transmission lines if it alone deemed the power need was critical. Heartland was one of the lines ordered under the fast-track rules.

Premier Alison Redford’s government passed an amendment late last year to reverse the fast-track process.

(CHED, The Canadian Press)