November 11th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 45
AltaLink Open House on Wildfire Safety
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
David Selles Photo
AltaLink held an open house on Tuesday, October 29th to update the public on how they are trying to mitigate wildfires in the Crowsnest Pass. The all day open house gave residents the chance to learn about vegetation clearing, updating power structures and potential power shutoffs. Approximately two dozen residents attended the open house.
David Selles
Pass Herald Reporter
AltaLink held an open house on wildfire safety in the Crowsnest Pass on Tuesday October 29th.

The information session was designed for residents to come out and learn more about what AltaLink is doing to mitigate the chances of wildfires in the area.
Vice President of System Operations for AltaLink, Paul Lee, says he wasn’t certain what the turnout would be but was happy with the questions from the residents who attended.

“We had about two dozen folks come out to the open house. I didn't have any real expectations on how many we would get. It always depends in terms of time of day, what kind of weather it is and other factors. The two-dozen folks who came had some really good engaging questions for us. Some were quite educated in the sense that they had done some research.”

Lee says the people who attended the open house provided good input.
“Many came with stories of wildfires that they experienced in the area as well. It was very real to them and that was a big positive for me. Everyone was engaged.”

Lee said there was one main question that visitors asked.

“The general question was what is AltaLink doing for wildfire safety as a whole? That's where we had the opportunity to speak to all the different components of our wildfire mitigation plan like vegetation management, additional inspections and enhancing the overall system. One area that garnered some interest was around our public safety power shut off (PSPS). PSPS is supposed to be a measure of last resort. We don't want to manage wildfire risk by shutting the power off; we want to do all the other things.
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There was another question about the PSPS that Lee said was asked often.

“The other common question was how often would these PSPS events occur and based on our analysis it is intended to be very infrequent. It's reserved for the most extreme fire weather conditions. When we take a look at the triggers and look back over the years we've only seen them exceeded twice in seven years. Those two times only lasted for an hour each as well.”

Lee says some people were worried that what happened in California could happen here as well.

“A lot of folks had questions about if what happened in California is going to happen to us. In short, California isn't Alberta. We don't have the same geography or climate.”

Lee said AltaLink also had the chance to sit down with many emergency response teams in the area.

“On October 28th, we met with the emergency responders. That included the Crowsnest Pass Fire Chief, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, RCMP, and the Director of the Pincher Creek Regional Emergency Management Organization. We had a roundtable discussion with them to show them what the protocol would be in the case of a PSPS. Essentially it would be no different than the community getting a notification if there was a tornado coming through. The municipal leaders would send it out but AltaLink would have that information on our website along with Fortis. We would try to leverage whatever emergency protocols and communications the community already has.”
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Overall Lee says the open house was a success.
“People found it to be reasonable and understood it and I think they all walked away learning more about what AltaLink is doing and who AltaLink is.”

One local resident, David McIntyre contacted us to share his perspective that AltaLink isn’t doing everything they should and has a warning for the public.

“I believe the most important things for area residents and all Albertans confronting accelerating wildfire threats and electrical transmission line issues to realize, scrutinize, and react to is Alberta’s electrical distributors’ apparent sudden awareness that the current electrical distribution system is neither safe nor reliable. It has the very real potential to cause wildfires and spark their advance. It’s a virtual duplicate of the deadly, problem-plagued system that’s in place in California, where wildfires are burning headlines into the news.”

McIntyre also brought up an electrical company in California facing scrutiny.

“Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), in California, is facing billions of dollars in debt and lawsuits, public condemnation, and plunging stock value due to its known, admitted, and/or alleged implications in starting and/or spreading California’s past and current wildfires. What’s clear here in Alberta is that AltaLink and other distributors of electricity are working on a similar—high fuel load, high wind—landscape, and they see the writing and the flames on the firewall. One question among many in California is will PG&E survive California’s wildfires? Albertans, on home turf, might ask a parallel question? There’s an acute need for a concerned public and its elected officials to get involved in wildfire safety, and electrical transmission line reliability and safety,” said McIntyre.
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November 11th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 45
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