Alberta is home to the largest wind power industry in the country, but it is built on shaky economics.
Alberta landowners, particularly farmers and ranchers, may be becoming familiar with Bill 50, a piece of draconian legislation which could dramatically affect their lives. It will allow the Alberta government to expropriate land for the purpose of building new transmission lines. Governments have the right to expropriate property for the “common good.” But this legislation takes away two things that had a bit of democracy a taxpayer could hang on to – public consultation and need determination.
The idea used to be that before electrical transmission lines were built, the public had an opportunity to voice their opinion and perhaps see some adjustments made for local concerns. Also, there was a provision that the power distributor had to prove that there was an actual need for the obtrusive lines to be built.
Apparently, that bit of democracy ended a couple of years ago when the government became annoyed with taxpayers and landowners who were expressing their concern with the proposed routes of new lines to be built between Calgary and Edmonton. To deal with these pesky individuals and organizations, the government agency involved, secretly hired private investigators to spy on them. When that bit of skulduggery was exposed, it derailed the approval process, much to the governments chagrin.
This entrenched government has shown that it can be very vindictive (remember the cattle checkoff) against those who have the audacity to question its intentions. Rather than strengthen the consultation and needs process to assure public participation without the spectre of government spying and harassment, it took a sledge hammer to eliminate any ability for citizens to question government plans on transmission plans.
But as you might expect, there is more to the story and much of it began when Alberta deregulated the electricity business in this province. A noble idea, but for it to be truly free, there had to be excess transmission capacity so that competition could occur. That didn’t quite happen so the answer was to build publicly funded lines that would cost every electrical consumer in Alberta an extra $200 per year to build and maintain. What’s infuriating to many is that industrial users would benefit more.
Another factor that has come to play a role in this political deception was “green” politics and that means wind power. Alberta is home to the largest wind power industry in the country, but it is built on shaky economics. Without large subsidization at both ends by government and electrical consumers, wind power is just not viable. Because it only generates 30 per cent of the time, when the wind does blow such electrical surges are sold through an auction system which sees it sold at a discount. Interestingly much Alberta wind power is sold into the B. C. grid where it can handle the sudden surge capacity. In what must seem absurd, Alberta buys expensive hydro power from B. C. when demand increases (where is wind power when you actually need it?).
It now seems that new transmission lines are also needed to more freely move wind power around when it is generated. That’s where the new intercity lines come into play along with new lines into Montana. The idea is that by expanding capacity and the size of the grid, wind power might fetch a higher price. That’s a genuine concern as the wind power steamroller continues. More wind farms are being built and planned that will easily double Alberta output in the next few years. That increase may satisfy green zealots, but it may not be very good for Alberta.
Windmills may provide extra income to landowners but they have big problems. Firstly they are an eyesore – a visual blight that is rapidly despoiling the beauty of the countryside. They kill thousands of birds and bats every year, which green groups conveniently ignore. Above all they are unreliable and operate only 30 per cent of the time. Another fact lost in the wind power rhetoric is that they provide very few jobs and very little economic activity. Most windmills are made in Denmark, Germany and China. Once constructed they provide only a few maintenance jobs.
What our provincial government ignores is that we have an abundant natural resource that could provide clean power, and yes reduce the need for unneeded transmission lines, and would encourage local jobs and industry. It’s simple – encourage industry to build more natural gas-fired power plants near where power is needed – Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray.
What’s in it for rural Alberta? The natural gas industry provides thousands of drilling and service jobs throughout the countryside. Wind power does not even come close. We are also rapidly losing American gas markets because of massive shale discoveries – we need to use that gas ourselves. Besides and perhaps most important, the Alberta government extracts royalties from natural gas production. It gets zero royalties from wind power. I rest my case.