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 premier@gov.ab.ca 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.