Vital decision but a long way to go -- Alberta transmission

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Alberta's Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) has given the go ahead to C$80 million in transmission upgrades in the windy southwest corner. "This is a very important and positive decision, because without it there is no more wind industry in that part of the province," says Jason Edworthy of Vision Quest Windelectric, a leading project developer.

The approval, which took more than a year to get, covers only the need for new transmission. A route for the new lines must still be selected and landowners consulted before a second application is filed with the EUB for approval of a detailed facilities plan. "There is a long road to go still," says Edworthy. "If I sound tired already, it is just that I know it will be a challenge."

Neil Millar, vice-president of transmission for the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), says his team is working with the owners of grid facilities in the area, as well as with the Piikani and Blood First Nations, which have extensive reserve lands in the region, to finalize a route. "We're looking towards having the facility application filed by the fall of this year," says Millar. "We're still optimistic that an in-service date in late 2006 or early 2007 is achievable." Edworthy, however, is not so confident. "While I love that enthusiasm, I think it would be very fortunate if we were able to get that far that fast," he says.

The upgrades will be built in two stages. The first set, costing about C$68-71 million, will accommodate about 1000 MW of capacity, says Millar. The C$7.2-8.9 million second stage, which will involve stringing a second 240 kV circuit on one of the new transmission lines built during the first phase, will allow the AESO to connect Vision Quest's proposed 300 MW Waterton Wind Farm when it is built. "There could be other projects instead of Waterton that would cause us to need that reinforcement, but at least the structure is already in place," says Millar.

Edworthy says Vision Quest has no specific timeline for development of the Waterton project. "We've still got some market evolution going on in Alberta right now, which certainly would impact any decisions. Plus, one has to have general market conditions right to make any investment," he says. "But we obviously have a large investment and some valuable land down there."

The Pincher Creek region has about 330 MW of generation, most of it wind. Some of that has had operational restrictions placed on it because of grid concerns. The AESO is in discussions with developers about the potential for 600-800 MW of new wind capacity being connected by the end of 2006.

The AESO's application faced opposition from the Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta, which questioned whether the new lines were "economically rational" and suggested that new transfer capability could be added by upgrading existing lines and changing the way they are managed. The association, however, withdrew its objections in late March, saying a recently updated generation forecast for the area meant its proposals "were not materially better than what was proposed by the AESO." Since the system operator filed its transmission application for the southwest of the province in April 2004, an additional 312 MW of new wind projects have applied for interconnection service.

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