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Friday,April 23, 2010 - PRAIRIE POST - 3

Southern Alberta

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Southern Alberta Newspapers photo by David Rossiter

Crews work on repairing downed power lines along Highway 25 between Picture Butte and Lethbridge, April 15.

Mother Nature pounds on Alberta



Mother Nature gets full blame for the massive power blackout on April 14. Scott Schriener of Calgary, head of communications for Alta Link, said freezing rain and snow hit miles of power transmission lines, and the added burden on those lines forced emergency safety equipment to shut down the service. Jennifer MacGowan of Calgary, head of communications for FortisAlberta, confirmed the damage caused by the severity of the wet, heavy snow. Her firm had more than 400 wooden power poles destroyed and 200 electrical lines downed, mostly in southeastern Alberta.

At the peak, Fortis had 50,000 customers without electricity, but that total had dwindled to 10,000 through the day. Still, Fortis had 5,000 customers overnight, continuing the morning of April 15, without power, the result of the combined problems experienced by Fortis and Alta Link.

MacGowan said finding electric service

problems in rural areas was compounded by the heavy snow and wet soil conditions. It forced the company to employ off-road transportation in some areas. “We had more than 200 FortisAlberta employees and contractors in service,” she said. “Some came from Spruce Grove and St. Albert. We had all hands on deck.” Still, Fortis followed work safety guidelines, she said. No injuries were reported despite the adverse working conditions. Work periods were limited for employee safety and optimum repair work.

MacGowan said crews continued to work hard to restore electrical power service. That work was focused in the Milo, Enchant, Lomond, Taber, Vauxhall, Bow Island and Redcliff areas and a couple of pockets in Medicine Hat. There were also a lot of pockets of downed service in rural areas.

Schriener called the

repair program a “team effort.”

“It (power outages) is lousy when it happens, and an inconvenience, and it takes a lot of work to get it back on,” he said. Alta Link also had electrical transmission poles go down. All were either single, wooden poles or a H-form structure. Thirty were lost in the Brooks area and four in the

Stavely area. None were steel towers, like those being installed west of Lethbridge on Alta Link’s new 240 kV double circuit transmission line being built to link substations north of Pincher Creek and on the north side of Lethbridge.

Schriener said that new transmission

line’s main job will be creating a power flow to the main grid from energy being generated by wind farms and about 12 new wind farm projects in a development queue, mostly west of Lethbridge. That new line will also create a new

route for electricity into Lethbridge, perhaps reducing the impact if another storm hits. Work on that line has moved into the Oldman River Valley for construction of poles to carry the line through the valley enroute to the Lethbridge substation. With new technology, such transmission lines can be installed underground. When Alberta Utilities Commission confirmed the route for the $133-million Pincher Creek-Lethbridge transmission line, a City spokesman raised the possibility of running underground through the river valley. Schriener said Alta Link officials have no opposition to such construction as long as it can be done to provide reliable and safe electricity transmission. Cost remains a major factor. While it costs about $1 million a kilometre for overhead transmission lines, underground lines can cost $7.5 million and more per kilometre. He said such increased costs would simply be added to the rate structure, forcing electricity customers to pay more. He said the City was offered a cost- sharing agreement on the increased cost of going underground through the river valley.

“No, Alta Link is not opposed.”

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