Facilities – Transmission Lines
In this decision, the AUC considered whether to approve Application 25074-A002 by Windrise Wind Energy Inc. to construct and operate a 138-kilovolt transmission line from Windrise 1063S Substation to Windy Flats 138S Substation and Application 25074-A004 to connect the line to AltaLink Management Ltd.’s Windy Flats 138S Substation (collectively, the “Proposed Project”). The AUC had previously approved a needs identification document and the alteration of the Windy Flats substation in Decision 2574-D01-2020.
The AUC found that approval of Transmission Line 497L along Alternate Route A and the connection of the line to the Alberta Interconnected Electric System (“AIES”) are in the public interest, having regard to the social, economic, and other effects of the applications, including their effect on the environment.
The AUC approved the Windrise Wind Power Project in Decision 24699-D01-2019. That project consists of a 206.4-megawatt (MW) wind power plant, collector lines and the Windrise 1063S Substation, all owned and operated by Windrise Wind Energy Inc. (Windrise). Windrise is the general partner of Windrise Wind LP, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of TransAlta Corporation.
Windrise applied to the Commission for approval to construct and operate a 138-kV transmission line designated as Transmission Line 497L from the Windrise 1080S Substation to AltaLink’s Windy Flats 138S Substation approximately ten kilometres southwest of the Town of Fort Macleod in the Municipal District of Willow Creek No. 26. Windrise also applied for approval to connect the transmission line to the Alberta Interconnected Electric System. The applications were registered as applications 25074-A002 and 25074-A004 on November 29, 2019.
Windrise submitted a preferred route and two alternate route options for the transmission line. The preferred route was also identified by Windrise as route B and was referred to in the decision as Preferred Route B. The alternate routes were referred to as Alternate Route A and Alternate Route C.
The AUC granted standing to a number of individual interveners, who were landowners living in proximity to at least one of the proposed routes.
Route Selection Process
The AUC found the preferred and alternate routes developed by Windrise were generally compatible with transmission line development, based on the project siting methodology adopted by Windrise, and took into account factors such as: paralleling existing transmission lines, minimizing construction impacts and risks, avoiding construction impediments and minimizing environmental impacts.
Windrise’s use of a route metrics table based on the four categories of potential impacts selected by Windrise and its environmental consultants was also reasonable and consistent with guidance provided by Rule 007 and previous Commission decisions. With the exception of some intervenors’ concerns about impacts to farmyards, all parties agreed with the choice of factors Windrise considered in its metrics table.
The AUC noted that the environmental evaluation prepared by Windrise’s expert concluded that, with sufficient mitigation measures, either Alternate Route A or Preferred Route B would be suitable from an environmental perspective. This conclusion was generally supported by an expert for a group of landowners known as the Route A Support Group (the “RASG”), who noted that the proposed mitigation measures should reduce the impacts of Alternate Route A and Preferred Route B on wetlands, grasslands and associated biodiversity to an acceptable level.
The AUC accepted the environmental evaluation’s conclusion that, except for routing in close proximity to McBride Lake, the potential environmental effects of the proposed Project would be “not significant” and found that the environmental effects of the proposed Project could be adequately mitigated, given diligent implementation of the mitigation measures proposed in the environmental evaluation and EPP, and the commitments made by Windrise.
The Commission accepted the evidence of Windrise and the RASG’s expert and found that Alternate Route C would have the largest impact on the environment. In addition, the Commission agreed with RASG’s expert that the Preferred Route B would have the next largest impact due to the number of easements, wetland infringements and structures located within undeveloped road allowances.
Electromagnetic Fields (“EMF”)
In the absence of expert evidence suggesting otherwise, the AUC placed significant weight on the World Health Organization’s conclusion that, based on available research data, exposure to EMFs is unlikely to constitute a serious health hazard, and also on Health Canada’s conclusion that exposure to EMFs from transmission lines is not a demonstrated cause of any long-term adverse effect to human or animal health. Accordingly, the AUC found that there is no evidence to suggest that EMFs from the transmission line will result in any adverse health effects.
The AUC noted that many interveners raised concerns about a variety of potential impacts that they believe the proposed Project would have on their residential properties, including property devaluation, visual impacts and noise. The AUC found that given the lack of expert evidence to demonstrate an adverse impact on property values, the AUC found that the interveners’ concerns were not substantiated.
The AUC further found that by locating the transmission line within road allowances and paralleling existing linear disturbances, the residential impacts associated with the proposed routes would be considerably mitigated and it does not expect residential impacts to be significant.
Lastly, with respect to noise, the AUC accepted Windrise’s evidence that the transmission line will not be a significant source of audible noise and was satisfied with Windrise’s commitments to comply with the requirements of Rule 012 and with applicable bylaws as those pertain to construction noise.
The AUC found that there was a low risk to traffic safety and the impacts will be temporary.
The AUC found that Windrise’s practices and procedures to reduce the spread of soil-borne diseases and noxious weeds were reasonable. Regarding electrical effects from the transmission line, the AUC noted that Windrise committed to conducting pre-construction EMF measurements for stakeholders who raise concerns in relation to radio interference, and would also work with stakeholders post-construction to mitigate EMF interference caused by its facilities. Windrise also committed to grounding fences, as required, while it operates the transmission line. More generally, the AUC considered the practices that Windrise committed to implement to mitigate agricultural impacts, as well as its commitment to working with landowners throughout the construction of the proposed project.
The AUC found that the commitments made by Windrise were reasonable and that there was no need to impose the additional conditions proposed by intervenors related to agricultural impacts.
The AUC reviewed the submissions of each party regarding the relative advantages and disadvantages of the three proposed route options, and weighed the respective social, economic, and environmental impacts of the routes. The AUC decided to grant approval to Alternate Route A.
Having determined that any health, noise and electrical effects do not support one route over the others, the Commission considered the environmental, residential and agricultural impacts of each of the preferred and alternate routes and found that Alternate Route A has the lowest overall impacts.