Since 2009, the Alberta government has reserved for itself the right to exempt electricity transmission projects from review by the Alberta Utilities Commission. Exempted projects have been referred to as Bill 50 Projects, Bill 50 being the name of the law when it was first proposed. Billions of dollars worth of Bill 50 Projects have been advanced since 2009, and those projects will continue to be free from the scrutiny of the Commission. However, earlier this week the Alberta Energy Minister proposed new legislation – Bill 8 – that would take away Cabinet’s power to designate future projects as “critical infrastructure”, and put them back within the review powers of the Commission.
In the absence of Bill 50 the Heartland, Edmonton to Fort McMurray, and Edmonton to Calgary transmission projects would have been subject to an extensive need assessment by the Commission in quasi-judicial hearings. Somewhat ironically, Bill 50 can be attributed, in part, to the Commission’s predecessor (the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board) concluding in 2007 that its approval of the Edmonton to Calgary 500 KV project in the face of heated landowner protests was void on the basis of reasonable apprehension of bias. From the frying pan to the fire and now back to the frying pan?