Five questions with RETA on the Heartland Transmission Project

The Heartland Transmission Project has been a fairly controversial story in the news here in Alberta recently. The project, which involves the construction of a double circuit 500kV power transmission line, is being led by AltaLink and EPCOR under the Electric Statutes Amendment Act (2009). I haven’t seen too much controversy about whether or not the infrastructure is needed (though you should read Dave’s post), but there has been lots related to how we go about acquiring it. Leading the charge is RETA, Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans. They recently launched a great video on the issue:

I thought the video was very well done, even if we’ve seen the format elsewhere in the past. I decided to ask RETA’s President, Bruce Johnson, a few questions.

Why did you decide to get involved with RETA?

I got involved about 2 years ago when I first heard about the proposed Heartland line and its 4 potential routes (one of which I live on). I quickly understood, though, that the issue was much bigger than just pushing them into someone else’s back yard. We needed to push for a policy that says whenever high voltage power lines are run by schools, daycares, houses etc., they need to be buried.

Why should people care about the Heartland Transmission Project?

The impacts these lines have can be broadly categorized as health (numerous diseases strongly correlated with power lines), safety (these towers can come down in wind and ice storms and they’re proposing to build them on top of high pressure acetylene lines, environmental (275 million birds are killed each year by flying into power lines), property values (homes near the lines can drop in value by as much as 40%) and aesthetics (the towers are 20 storeys tall and nearly as wide as a football field). And guess what, these lines aren’t even needed and, just to add insult to injury, you get to pay for them anyway on your electricity bill.

Where did the idea for the video come from?

We knew we needed to do something to wake people up about this, and, at first, we thought we’d create something dramatic and shocking. But on reflection we thought that something humorous but ironic might get more people talking. We had seen a number of spoofs on pharmaceutical ads on SNL and the like and that format became the basis for the script.

What has the response been like? Any other videos in the works?

We’ve had extremely positive responses from just about everyone. A few people think its in poor taste (but at least they’re talking about it) and a few others believe there are no health effects despite the huge body of evidence to the contrary. Right now no immediate plans for another video.

How can people get involved in this issue?

The best thing people can do is to email the premier at and tell him to stop the overbuild and to put lines that are necessary underground when they impact people directly. That, and join RETA on our website. It’s free. The Heartland Line proposal will go before the Alberta Utilities Commission sometime in the next 3 to 6 months and we need to have convinced the government to change it’s position by then.

To learn more, visit the Heartland Transmission Project and RETA websites. If you’d like to write a letter in support of RETA’s position, there are templates and instructions here.

Alberta Budget 2010 website – security through obscurity

Tomorrow, Tuesday, is budget day here in Alberta. Like many Albertans, I am curious about what Finance Minister Ted Morton is going to deliver, so I started poking around online. First stop, last year’s budget, available at

Seems logical that the 2010 budget would be at So I tried that URL, and was prompted with a login screen. First thing that came to mind was “administrator” and “password”. Voila:

Fortunately for Mr. Morton, the documents don’t appear to have been uploaded yet. You can see all the placeholders though, which is kind of funny. And it seems you can leave feedback.

It does reveal the theme of the budget, Striking the Right Balance. Last year was Building on Our Strength.

This is what is known as “security through obscurity”. It’s not really secure, it’s just hidden. I’d suggest that programmers working at the Government of Alberta invest in Writing Secure Code, a fantastic book on the subject.

I hope this isn’t a reflection of the budget we see tomorrow…cutting corners, etc.

UPDATE: Sometime around 9:45 AM today they changed the password, and I think pointed the virtual directory somewhere else.

UPDATE2: The Journal wrote about this today.

UPDATE3: The site is now officially live with all the budget documents. Enjoy!

#bill44 on Twitter by Edmontonians & Calgarians

A little while ago, Paula told me she was interested in reconstructing the Twitter stream that happened last year around Bill 44 (PDF and if you want a summary, Ken has a great one). She tried using Twitter Search but quickly found that it only goes back so far, so she asked if I could help. With a few caveats, I said I could.

The first caveat is that the tweets I have are only from people in Edmonton and Calgary (with their profiles set to one of those at the time). I’m sure other Albertans were taking part too. The second is that it’s pretty hard to find all the back-and-forth tweets for the various conversations, so the ones I pulled out all contain the #bill44 hashtag.

I looked at the data for May and June of 2009. Here’s what it looks like:

I was initially surprised by the double peaks, but Paula helped make sense of it:

The first peak is the night debate went until 3:38 AM and the amendments were defeated. The second spike is the night (and early morning) of the final vote. Debate started the evening of the 1st, and ended at about 3:20 AM on the 2nd. The Twitter chatter continued like mad on the 2nd and 3rd, as people bemoaned the result.

Here are the top ten most active #bill44 users during those two months: KenChapman46, Sirthinks, taudette, DebraWard, robertmcbean, AllieW, ChrisLaBossiere, davecournoyer, Paulatics, bingofuel.

After removing #bill44, #ableg, and RT, this is what the word cloud of the tweets looks like:

And here, in chronological order, is all 2406 tweets:

I have archived that spreadsheet here or you can get the full version here. That means you can download the data set and do your own analysis, if you like!

I agree with Paula and all of the others who have said this: Bill 44 was a landmark moment in Alberta’s social media & political history. I’m glad we were able to preserve a part of it.

As a minor aside, I think this a great example of what could come out of MediaCamp.