Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Understanding the real 'why' behind Alberta's transmission lines
These power lines are causing quite the uproar in Alberta as of late. Lots of accusations flying around about money greased deals and corruption. The controversal land use law is driving debate all around the province. I'd like to give my take on the transmission lines themselves as I believe it's about money, greasing deals, but also largely about U.S. and Chinese oil supplies.

To set the stage for my argument I would like to point to this article from StatsCan / 2005. I've chosen 2005 as that is when we were in the high growth stage of our last oil boom.
Alberta is Canada’s biggest per capita consumer of energy. In 2003, Alberta’s per capita consumption was two-and-a-half times higher than the national average. Between 1990 and 2003, per capita energy consumption increased by 11%. That surge was not entirely due to a sizeable increase in population. A big part of the increase in total energy consumption resulted from industrial activity in the province.
The most notable portion of this paragraph is that we are the biggest per capita consumer, and that most of this energy demand is from industry. This video from Alberta's gov't gives a run down of their plans for the future, released at roughly the same point in time as the StatsCan article:

So at the time of this video, Alberta was producing 1.5 million barrels / day, which they hope to increase to 5 million barrels / day by 2030. So in 2005 Alberta's industry was about 28% of the total industry Alberta wants by 2030 which also means industrial power demand is 28% of the total power demand Alberta can anticipate from industry in 2030.

The problem with this is that the world uses near 90million barrels / day today, so the oil sands are only providing 1.5 million barrels of that, regardless if we have even 500 billion years worth of oil we still are only providing a drop in the bucket in actual oil produced. That oil is all still in the ground and useless to us at the moment.

Now most Albertan's know that primarily the U.S. receives our oil, but few realize that many other huge oil consuming economies like China also have big investments in the oil sands, and for good reason: they really really need that oil. Not only do they really need it, but they really need it cheap. Now think back to that statscan article I linked above and the fact most power demand increases in Alberta is directly from industry and in Alberta that industry is mostly oil sands. Some warning bells about our economic structure should be going off right about now, that our energy production has huge power consumption demand.

Most of our power production also seems to be being built up north such as this one and this one. Why would they be being built up north, and not near Calgary where Alberta's population needs power the most? Well reading the article should give you a hint:
Energy Alberta Corporation has chosen Peace River, Alta., as the site for its proposed $6.2 billion nuclear power plant.
 Yup, they chose it! Now what reason would a power generation company have to choose a location that is nowhere near the population of the province? Well my bet would be money, stakeholder money to be specific.

So, how is this relating to the power lines you might be asking? Well consider that the U.S. and the Chinese are the primary investors in our oil infrastructure. Consider that there are riots in many of the key oil producing nations which it can be assumed that Government's have been aware of and preparing for. Consider that our oil is expensive to produce and that the U.S. and China rely on cheap energy to fuel their massive economies.

So, using simple logic what is the reason the government is pushing power lines on Albertans that Albertans pay for 100%? Is it to sell power to the U.S.? Probably a little. Is it to grease the pockets of power companies and politicians? Yup. But the deep down reason? The power consumers don't want to pay for the full generation and transmission costs of the future. It's preferable to the eyes of big business that we pay for it. Naturally it is cheaper to consume power if the power is being generated close to you. Albertans will be paying the transmission costs that industry should be paying instead.

Do not support this scam, demand power plants are built near our populations. I refer to this as classic "privatize profits, socialize losses" policy making and as uptag has noted is not reflective of the population's power demand at all.


  1. Sure thing. Let's try building a nuclear plant just outside of Devon and see how long until the same anti-powerline forces decide they don't want that either.

  2. Location doesn't make a difference on that front: