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NIMBY in Canada?

Feb 24, 2010 - Phil Carson - intelligent utility

With advance apologies to all Canadians, whom I hold in high esteem, having traveled extensively in the Yukon and criss-crossed the western provinces and even developed a hard-earned respect for the Québécois' driving skills (hint: they would feel at home in Indianapolis) - I offer this headline because it seems incongruous.

Of course, that says more about me than Canadians. I think of our northern neighbors as the epitome of courtesy, harmony and wisdom. (Okay, so I don't keep a close eye on the Parliament in Ottawa, which would shatter my rose-tinted glasses.)

Anyway, I noticed with some relief - and the comfort of distance - a news item yesterday that made me realize that none of us is immune from NIMBY. Somehow it made it easier for me to understand my own ambiguous thinking on the topic and my own contradictory emotions. Nobody doesn't feel this way at some point.

My premise here - this is a forum, after all, for smart grid topics - is that transmission line siting and build out is integral to the smart grid. Whether it's long distance transmission and integration of renewables or simply regional or national interconnections, smartness can mean relieving transmission congestion and connecting markets. Basic infrastructure upgrades can be just as important as fancy digital stuff.

Back to Canada. The Edmonton Journal reported yesterday that a new study suggested it is feasible to bury part of a proposed, 40-mile long 500,000 volt transmission line. A third of the line would skirt Edmonton's northeast limits and deliver electricity to an industrial area.

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) did the study. A citizen group, Responsible Electrical Transmission for Albertans (RETA), applauded the findings.

Without straying into the weeds, here are a few of the flashpoints.

Ratepayers in Edmonton would not directly benefit from the new line. But cost-sharing pegged at 30 cents per household per month (duration not specified) was deemed acceptable to Albertans by RETA. But a representative of the Industrial Power Consumers of Alberta said that burying the line would be an aesthetic gesture only and would increase costs by $600 million to $1 billion and add years to construction. Also, there's some question over whether buried high voltage lines would operate smoothly during the region's low temperatures.

An AESO planner added that initial estimates for burying the line ran from four to 20 times the cost of overhead lines. Repairs could take 30 days or more for buried lines, much longer than for aerial lines.

The Alberta Utilities Commission will sort out any benefits to a buried line and, if it decides in favor of a buried line, it will decide who should pay for it.

Next I made another Google search on the topic, which, followed far enough, would ultimately lead to my home state of Colorado. But I didn't want to go that far; I wanted examples elsewhere to illustrate that we're all facing the same issues. While avoiding the pain of admitting that I'm a NIMBY NIMBY, the very worst sort - I don't even want not-in-my-backyard issues in my backyard. At least not today.

Instead I shot south from Alberta through Idaho. Idaho Falls, to be precise. A transmission line plan has residents up in arms. "Stray voltage" threatened his cattle, one rancher complained. Another resident cited threats to wildlife, particularly migratory birds. Another said leukemia and cancer was on the rise locally. Idaho Falls Power emphasized that it was open to dialogue.

Next stop: way down south in San Saba County, Texas. Oncor's proposed high-voltage transmission line would cut through "the heart" of the county, according to news reports. (The county, geographically, could be said to reside in the heart, or center, of Texas.) The Public Utilities Commission of Texas' comments software was overwhelmed by "input" from San Saba County residents.

I don't have the answers, folks. But the themes are familiar, no matter where you go. (Although I'm looking forward to learning more about transmission line siting in, say, China and Russia. You get my drift.)

As I study my home state of Colorado, which has identified abundant renewable energy resources far from existing high-voltage transmission lines, I wade through the memories and values established from living nearly 40 years all over the state. Many of those areas face the issue of transmission line siting. And, thus, so do I. I'll endeavor to share my thinking as it develops.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily

Updated: 2016/06/30

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