As much as we say we want them, alternate energy projects tend to generate more mixed feelings than they do kilowatt-hours. The newly approved Montana-Alberta Tie-Line is a case in point, at least for me. On the one hand, the 22 landowners who oppose the project deserve to have their concerns addressed. They are rightfully worried that the line will devalue their land, interfere with personal electronic devices, prevent aerial spraying, and cause health problems. I’d be worried too.
On the other hand, this project seems very good. The 230-kilovolt power line will import and export electricity between Lethbridge, Alberta and Great Falls, Montana. The cool thing is that the Calgary owners plan to rent it out to some energy entrepreneurs, who in turn will use it to market electricity from a new wind farm in Montana.
There is a lot of wind in Montana. We need a lot of electricity in Alberta. And vice versa: Folks in Montana are already vulnerable to outages, and wind energy exporters up here would be happy to make sure they never suffer one again. And I would far rather import electricity from the U.S. than turn much of Alberta into a coal mine/slag heap. In fact, what I most want to know is whether this line will ever be made available to companies creating energy from coal. Because that would sour me on it real quick; I don’t want to see coal-based companies receiving any sort of public support.
And I’m not crazy about the fact that it’s yet another international project. These huge projects seem to attract all sorts of support, at the expense of local solutions. Why, for instance, don’t neighbourhood associations organize to create sources of solar energy and distribute it to residents? I don’t know if municipal bylaws support the creation of neighbourhood energy consortia, but if they don’t, they can be changed.
I’d much rather see incentives to citizens to invest in solar energy than more of these massive undertakings. But maybe it doesn’t have to be an either/or thing. Large energy companies are understandably nervous about citizens taking matters into their own hands, but they could investigate business models wherein they partner with citizens, promote clean sources of energy on a local basis, and still turn a decent dime. Because if they don’t, I am pretty sure that people — neighbourhoods, upstart companies offering local solutions, or even entire municipalities — will eventually do it anyway, and shut out the big guys (and their pollution).
So in the end, I come down on the side of the Tie-Line — just. As for the landowners, maybe it’s time they got out of cattle (good idea anyway), got out of farming that requires irrigation and spraying (good idea anyway) and got into windmills and dryland farming. With so much of the world peeved at Alberta’s environmental record, a lot more of us are going to have to climb on the clean air bus.