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Response to Herald Article “Nuclear power pitched to city”

Duane Pendergast and Laurence Hoye

 Members of the Canadian Nuclear Society

We would like to thank the Herald for the recent coverage of our presentation to City Council regarding the reliability of the Alberta electrical network and the provision of information on nuclear power. 

However, we do take some exception to the tone of the title; “Nuclear power pitched to city”.  As a matter of fact the primary issue we raised with Council was our concern, as citizens, with the potential for interruption in our electricity supply. 

There has been great emphasis in recent years with the development of wind power around Lethbridge. No less that three new transmission line projects are being proposed to collect and distribute wind power. One of these, just recently approved, will bring wind generated electricity to Lethbridge from the Pincher Creek area. There is another proposal for a transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, again justified on the basis wind power can be brought from that direction – or vice versa. Finally, the March 12 issue of the Herald provides a two page “Notice of Hearing” for another massive transmission line project basically linking Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. The need for this one is also “driven predominately by the forecast development of wind generation”. An additional 1200 to 2700 MW above the existing capacity in Southern Alberta is anticipated. The total projected cost for these lines is well over two billion dollars.  We all know, that even in the Lethbridge area, the wind does not blow all the time and in fact the output of all the existing wind turbines is often zero. There is no significant reliable generating capacity near  Lethbridge. 

Lethbridge is  thus highly dependant on  a long set of transmission lines from generating stations located far away at Sheerness, Battle River and Lake Wabamun west of Edmonton as well as gas turbine plants around the province.  Attempts to upgrade the transmission system in Alberta have met with resistance and delays. We understand that could ultimately lead to failure of that system – particularly in the face of a need for it to adapt to widely varying input from wind generators.  Being at the end of inadequate transmission lines from reliable sources of electricity does not bode well for Lethbridge. 

We also provided some history of nuclear power development around the world, and information on some of the nuclear safety issues that have arisen. At no time did we “pitch” nuclear power to the city of Lethbridge. We did point out that benefits from nuclear power might accrue to Lethbridge should Alberta industry take the lead to apply it for their needs. In time Lethbridge might be able to connect, through a reliable grid, to nuclear electricity from Northern Alberta, Saskatchewan or even Southern Alberta.  The nature of our presentation and discussion with City Council is very well reported in the minutes of the March 2, 2009 Community Issues Meeting.  

There is no doubt that all electricity consumers in the Province, whether they be industrial, commercial, farm or residential owners will pay for transmission line and generation upgrades.  It really comes down to a question of planning on the basis of sensible priorities or reacting to more wind proposals which could lead to an unstable electricity supply system. In the goodness of time Albertans are the stakeholders in addition to the planners and the developers. 

City Council did ask us what they might do to help assure a reliable electricity supply. We suggested consultation with the Alberta Electric System Operator might be a good place to start as that organization best understands the complexity of integrating electricity sources with different characteristics to provide our needs. We respectfully suggest that the City Council invite representatives to an information session to explain actions they are taking to ensure   the electrical supply to the City is reliable for the foreseeable future. 

The “Notice of Hearing” for the “Southern Alberta Transmission System Reinforcement Needs Identification Document Application” provides another golden opportunity for the City of Lethbridge to intervene on behalf of her citizens in this matter.


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