Opponents of planned and proposed power lines in the province of Alberta appear to be relying more on manipulating the system than on the merits of their arguments as they attempt to stop the lines from moving forward.
Three power lines approved under Bill 50 – the Heartland line, the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line (EATL) and the Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL) – are the focus of the opposition.
At the core of the opposition is that the provincial legislature, through Bill 50, declared the lines to be critical transmission infrastructure. Usually, it is the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) that performs needs assessments for proposed power lines, but the AUC’s position on the three lines in question was that the need had been established by the legislature; all that was left for the AUC to do was to determine the routes for the lines.
Opponents of the Heartland line filed appeals practically before the ink was dry on the AUC’s Nov. 1 order approving the project’s route, asserting that the AUC still had the authority – and indeed, the responsibility – to conduct a needs assessment.
Appellants in Alberta had two avenues available to them: an appeal directly to the AUC asking that it review and reconsider its decision, or a petition to the Court of Appeal seeking its permission to appeal the ruling.
The appeals filed with the AUC have all been dismissed, but one petition to the Court of Appeal has survived. On March 28, Justice Ronald Berger granted what is called “leave to appeal,” meaning that the appellants now had permission to appeal the ruling.
The question of the AUC’s responsibility – or lack thereof – to determine need was a pivotal point in the petition to the Court of Appeal, and a point that Justice Berger agreed needed to be addressed. “In my opinion, it is imperative in the interests of certainty and consistency that this court pronounce upon the issue,” he wrote in his March 28 ruling.
What has followed has been less about getting a definitive ruling on the Heartland line and more about gamesmanship regarding all three lines.
The attorney for the appellants, Keith Wilson of St. Albert, Alberta, has made numerous critical comments that have been widely quoted in the Canadian press, including his most recent comments that the AUC’s hearing on the WATL that commenced June 11 should be adjourned pending a decision from the Court of Appeal.
However, it’s difficult to guess when that might happen, as Wilson well knows. As of June 1 – more than two months after being granted leave to appeal – Wilson had not filed even the preliminary paperwork necessary to move the case forward, a court clerk told TransmissionHub.
The clerk could offer no explanation, indicating that the attorney had not been in contact with the court.
Calls to Wilson’s office seeking comment were not returned.
Perhaps pivotal, the leave to appeal the Heartland case does not have a deadline for filing, according to the court clerk. That gives opponents the option to keep the issue alive indefinitely, which may be exactly what they want to do.
If the process moved forward and the court agreed with the merits of their arguments, they’d have won. The risk, however, is that they would not prevail, and a decision against them would end the matter.
That may be precisely what they don’t want, and may be exactly why the appeal hasn’t been moved forward.
If they are able to delay the EATL and WATL pending a ruling from the Court of Appeal on the Heartland line and are also able to delay that ruling indefinitely through inaction, then they will have deadlocked the process.
If, as they say, legal battles are a chess game, then perhaps the lines' opponents are attempting to force a stalemate. However the AUC's move, late in the day on June 13 refusing to halt the WATL hearings, may make a stalemate that much harder to achieve.