Calgary Herald

ATCO behind ads against Altalink sale

Grid ‘lifeblood’ of electric system, company CEO says


EDMONTON— ATCO says it paid for anonymous ads in Alberta newspapers this week warning of “serious consequenc­es” if AltaLink is sold to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the U.S. company controlled by billionair­e Warren Buffett.

The ads, some titled “We’re Losing Control,” appeared in the Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Sun, Fort McMurray Today and some rural papers.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy announced May 1 that it intends to purchase AltaLink — Alberta’s largest electricit­y transmissi­on provider — from current owner SNC-Lavalin of Montreal.

The $3.2-billion deal is expected to close Dec. 31 but needs approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission and the federal government.

A full-page ad Thursday warned of “serious consequenc­es for the province we call home” if the sale is approved: loss of control of critical infrastruc­ture, a lack of regulation south of the U.S. border and the “potential for more power exports.”

Nancy Southern, chairwoman, president and CEO of ATCO Ltd., confirmed it paid for the ads. She said there wasn’t a need to disclose to readers that the message was from ATCO.

“The reason for not putting our name on it is it isn’t about ATCO or AltaLink,” Southern said. “It’s about a principle, and a discussion that Canadians, and Albertans, should have.”

She said Albertans haven’t had enough time to consider the deal and its implicatio­ns. Southern said she’s not opposed to direct foreign investment in Canada, but the trans- mission grid is different.

It’s the “lifeblood” of the electricit­y industry and shouldn’t fall into American ownership, beyond the reach of Canadian regulators, she said.

AltaLink president and CEO Scott Thon said the ads “smacked of selfintere­st.” He said he questioned why they were anonymous.

“The only conclusion I can bring is that you want them to be anonymous because you want them to spread misinforma­tion, and that’s what these ads do,” Thon said, challengin­g the claims.

“AltaLink will continue to be an independen­t Alberta company run by Albertans,” he said. “It will be regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission and it will have operationa­l oversight by the independen­t AESO (Alberta Electric System Operator).”

The sale can’t lead to an increase in power exports, he said. AltaLink doesn’t own the power it moves, and Alberta is a net importer of electrical power, not an exporter.

“We’ll continue to be transparen­t,” Thon said. “We’ll continue to give people the facts.”

The ads encouraged people with concerns about the sale to contact their MLAs, the federal industry minister or the utilities commission.

AUC spokesman Jim Law said the commission had received 70 emails on the issue by mid-afternoon Thursday and that more were coming in.

He said people can offer input to various organizati­ons taking part in the review process, such as the Utilities Consumer Advocate or the Consumers Coalition of Canada.

“We do have a process in place — an evidence-based public process that will evaluate the applicatio­n and produce a written decision,” Law said.

The Utilities Consumer Advocate and the Consumers Coalition of Canada have registered as intervener­s in the review process as has ATCO Electric.

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