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Power to the people.

The RD11 project

On September 4, 1999, Edmonton Power (now known as Epcor) announced that plans were underway to repower and expand the Rossdale Generating plant with the addition of a new co-generation unit called RD11. The repowering would occur with the construction of a new high pressure pipeline from the city limits to the centre of town.

The Rossdale plant sits on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River. The plant has existed since 1891 on the Ross Flats area. It was originally set up by noteworthy residents of Edmonton to serve local industries and residences, but during the course of the twentieth century, it had expanded. By 1999, the working part of the plant consisted of three huge gas boilers and was part of the provincial power grid system. The site had expanded so that it covered most of the land originally occupied by Fort Edmonton when Edmonton had first been settled. However, just prior to 1999, all indications were that the boilers were coming to the end of their lives, and that, with the advent of the Genessee plant north of Edmonton, Rossdale would be decommissioned in the near future.

The news of an expansion, therefore, came as quite a surprise to many in Rossdale and the wider community who had been expecting the imminent demise of the plant. In September 1999, Edmonton City Council, the sole shareholder of Epcor, refused to hear from the public on a controversial motion to demolish the historic Low Pressure Plant building at Rossdale to make way for RD11. The fate of Rossdale seemed to be sealed. Against the protests of groups representing communities, historic societies, wildlife interests, native peoples and, not least, descendants of those who had lived, died, and were buried at Fort Edmonton, Epcor prepared to demolish, rebuild, and repower. A prevailing fear was that once Epcor had introduced RD11, the RD12, and RD13 projects would not be far behind.

Fast forward to November 2001: Epcor announces that the RD11 project is officially dead. How did this happen? Well, it did not happen by people chaining themselves to bulldozers, throwing eggs, or even just by writing letters to politicians (although there were some powerful visual protests- the slogan "Epcorps" being one of my particular favourites!). It came about as the result of many volunteer hours spent by various members of the public researching and using the law. Those involved became experts in the intricacies of power deregulation, power generation and supply, noise measurements, archeology, planning law, freedom of information, and historical designation. They became educated and supportive about each other's causes, and formed a sometimes chaotic, but effective informal coalition.

Alberta Energy and Utility Board Hearing

The first rallying point was the application by Epcor to the Alberta Energy and Utility Board (EUB) for approval to construct the new facility. Those opposed to the project became aware that funding was available for intervenors. Applications were made, and in April 2000, the EUB held a pre-hearing meeting to determine what issues they would consider at a full hearing and who might receive intervenor status. The EUB decision was to allow all groups to be heard at the full hearing, but funding was limited to a few groups. Many of the groups that were not funded were native groups. Despite the set back of no funding for research, experts, or legal representation, these groups worked on towards the full hearing and provided much of the historical backdrop.

The EUB also ruled that issues relating to the economics of the project, land use planning, and the need for increased power would not be discussed at the hearing. The brave new world of deregulation in the power industry left risk of the project to the owner and those issues were therefore not relevant. What remained for discussion was a determination of whether RD11 was in the public interest and what that public interest was (as described in sections 2 and 9 of the Hydro and Electrical Energy Act), the role of the EUB as opposed to Alberta Community Development (ACD) in assessing heritage resources on the site, and the effect of section 619 of the Municipal Government Act, which appeared to devolve city planning responsibility to the EUB.

The hearing was scheduled for two weeks in October 2000, but that soon proved to be an optimistic estimate. After three weeks, a further three weeks was assigned in January 2001. As with many long hearings of this nature, a certain camaraderie developed amongst participants, lawyers, and even opponents. The EUB panel certainly had to be commended for their forbearance, as they obviously had to be present for everything.

The EUB decision

The EUB decision came down in May 2001. The Board approved the application by Epcor on the basis that the RD11 project met the test of being in the public interest. The public interest in this case was to be determined against the backdrop of power deregulation, so that it included the economic and orderly development and operation of electrical power; the establishment of a competitive market; and the economic, social, and environmental effects of the project. The Board also held that it would defer to ACD with regard to issues surrounding conservation of the historic resources on the Rossdale site, including the Low Pressure Plant building. Further, the Board said that section 619 of the Municipal Government Act did not provide a conflict between decisions of the EUB and those made by the municipality on planning issues. The Board did make some very clear criticisms of the public consultation process followed by Epcor, and also made some provisos with regard to noise readings and environmental matters. However the application by Epcor was granted.


Following the digestion of the EUB decision and some professional legal consultation, one of the groups that opposed the RD11 project, Concerned Citizens for Edmonton's River Valley (Concerv), launched an appeal to the courts. In August 2001, Mr. Justice Berger of the Alberta Court of Appeal gave leave to appeal the decision of the EUB on two grounds. Firstly, that the EUB was wrong in finding that under the new legislation governing deregulation the issues of the need for and the economics of a project were not relevant. Secondly, that the EUB was wrong to rely upon ACD to look after the heritage buildings on the site as it meant the Board was giving away jurisdiction of a "social" aspect of the project. The appeal is currently waiting to be heard. The terms of the first head of appeal could have wider implications for subsequent power projects approved in Alberta.

Historic designation

Meanwhile things were moving over at Alberta Community Development (ACD). When Epcor had first announced an intention to expand at Rossdale, some groups and individuals had applied to have certain aspects of the Rossdale site declared to be Provincial Historic Resources under section 16 of the Historic Resources Act. Designation would afford protection to the resources as any time anyone wanted to do something that would disturb the resources in any way, permission would have to be obtained from the Minister of Community Development. Designation had been sought for the archeological resources on the site, some of which had been dated back as far as 8,000 years; the old cemetery that existed in the days of Fort Edmonton; the whole site in terms of perhaps 8,000 years of settlement; and some of the unique buildings on the site which were reminiscent of a bygone industrial age.

On June 18th 2001, Gene Zwozdesky, Minister of Community Development issued a Notice of Intention to designate three buildings on the Rossdale site as Provincial Historic Resources. The Notice gave protection to the buildings for up to 120 days, whilst ACD decided whether or not to make the designation permanent. The buildings concerned were the 1931 Administration Building, the 1937 Pumphouse No. 1, and the Low Pressure Plant. The Low Pressure Plant is a large, flat roofed complex of steel frame and masonry construction. It had been built in six phases over twenty six years from 1928, and is remarkable for the consistency of the architecture. Epcor had originally planned to demolish the whole building to make way for RD11 and future expansions. Demolition plans had been scaled back a little following public outcry, but the favoured plan still involved demolition of two thirds of the building, essentially destroying the architectural integrity.

Following written representations from the public, ACD mandated the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation to hold a hearing into the proposed designation. Again, Epcor and the various interested groups and individuals attended and made representations before the Foundation. This was a fairly informal process compared to the quasi-judicial nature of the EUB and took just two days. No parties, including Epcor, were legally represented. The Foundation is a panel of approximately twelve volunteers from all over Alberta and includes lawyers, historians, and citizens. The Foundation does not issue a decision in public, but makes recommendations to the Minister based upon what it has heard.

On October 17th, 2001, Minister Zwozdesky issued the extremely welcome decision that all three buildings at Rossdale were to be confirmed as Provincial Historic Resources with no special conditions. Although Epcor could ask the Minister for permission to tear down some of the Low Pressure Plant, it was unlikely they would be able to take out two thirds of the building. It appears that with this option closed, the RD11 project was no longer viable, and in November 2001 the decision was announced that the project was no longer proceeding.

What now for Rossdale?

It was a successful end to just over two years of very hard, dedicated, volunteer effort. However the work may not yet be over. The future of the Rossdale plant still hangs in the balance. Epcor has maintained that the plant will be operating for another twenty-six years. Community groups would still like to see a more modern long-term vision for the Rossdale site with power generation being phased out completely. Native groups would like to see the Fort Edmonton cemetery and areas of first settlement commemorated. Historic groups would like to see further protection for the history of the site, which includes the site of provincial inauguration in 1905 by Sir Wilfred Laurier and the birth place of the Tiger Lily flower as discovered by Luther Burbank. There will likely be further chapters yet to be written about Rossdale and the powerful emotions it invokes in the citizens of Edmonton.
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Author:Parish, Lynn
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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