Edmonton Journal

Premier says Tories to blame for rising power costs

But Notley fails to elaborate on how her government would fix problem

- DARCY HENTON With files from James Wood dhenton@postmedia.com

Albertans can blame the previous Tory government for increased transmissi­on costs on their power bills, says the premier.

Rachel Notley pointed the finger at Ed Stelmach’s Progressiv­e Conservati­ve government for overbuildi­ng Alberta’s power grid, but didn’t explain how her NDP government plans to address the problem.

She said the PC government knew its process of approving transmissi­on infrastruc­ture “was going to significan­tly increase costs for consumers,” so the fact that’s now happening is predictabl­e.

“That will have an impact on consumers’ bills, but people need to understand that was a very definitive decision made by the previous Conservati­ve government, knowing full well at the time what the impact was, because we debated it at lengths in the legislatur­e,” she told reporters last week.

Notley noted the NDP fought against a decision by the PC government to give cabinet the power to approve critical infrastruc­ture projects without public hearings to determine whether they were needed.

A coalition of consumer groups has warned “unpreceden­ted” increases in transmissi­on costs are unsustaina­ble, and an energy consultant has called for a com- prehensive review of electricit­y transmissi­on.

Notley didn’t say what the NDP is going to do about the situation and the energy ministry didn’t provide any answers when asked Friday.

“While it is crucial we have a reliable electricit­y grid that keeps pace with a growing province, the previous government was not clear with Albertans about what the costs would be and who would pay for their decisions,” Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said in a statement. “Consumers are now seeing some of these costs on their bills and rightfully asking questions.”

She said the government is focused on developing a clean energy grid. “Our priority with the electricit­y system right now is to implement the Climate Leadership Plan,” she said.

Opposition critics attacked the government for pointing fingers rather than addressing the problem. Wildrose electricit­y critic Don MacIntyre said it’s time for the NDP government to “cowboy up and own it.”

“Take responsibi­lity for the good and bad, and clean things up,” he said.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark called the premier’s move to blame the previous government “a copout.”

“It’s time to take some responsibi­lity and find some solutions.”

PC critic Rick Fraser said the premier is “incorrect” in accusing the former Tory government of a transmissi­on overbuild.

He suggested the province will need a bolstered grid to meet its goal of getting 30 per cent of its electrical power from renewable energy. “You are going to need these transmissi­on lines for the renewable energy,” he said.

Energy consultant Sheldon Fulton complained in a letter to McCuaig-Boyd that the PC transmissi­on policy will drive up grid infrastruc­ture spending to $20 billion by 2020 — up from just $2.1 billion in 2008. Consumers who paid $10 a month for transmissi­on in 2008 will be paying more than $50 a month by 2020, he claimed.

Fulton said there is a lack of cost accountabi­lity by the Alberta Electric System Operator, which plans and operates the electricit­y grid, and the Alberta Utilities Commission, which approves the costs.

“Consumers that pay transmissi­on costs have no say in where the transmissi­on is built, why it is built, how big it will be,” he wrote.

He said AESO pushed for a significan­t increase in infrastruc­ture in 2008 based on “exaggerate­d concern for system reliabilit­y,” with warnings of potential rolling brownouts if the lines weren’t built. “The result is an over-built, underutili­zed transmissi­on system,” Fulton said in the letter. “In some instances, double lines exist for projects that are no longer viable.”

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