A Pincher Creek councillor who works for an electricity wholesaler is the subject of a complaint that he was in a conflict of interest when he participated in a recent public information session hosted by his employer.
Wayne Oliver, now in his second term on town council, said he’s worked for TransAlta Corp. for 18 years. As the company’s Wind Operations Supervisor for Western Canada, Oliver said he looks after 13 wind farms and one battery storage site across southern Alberta. He attended TransAlta’s Feb. 17 information session at Hill Spring Community Centre to answer questions about a wind farm TransAlta hopes to build in Cardston County as part of its proposed Riplinger renewable energy project, Oliver told Shootin’ the Breeze on Feb. 28.
“It seems to me that this is a conflict of interest” according to council’s code of conduct (Bylaw 1622-18), the complainant stated in a letter attached to council’s Feb. 27 agenda.
The complainant, whose name is redacted from the letter, wrote that the Riplinger project would feed into a 45-kilometre transmission line through the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, which borders Cardston County.
“I believe the Town of Pincher Creek has an inherent relationship to the proposed project,” the letter states, adding that Oliver’s presence at the Hill Spring session “could be seen as potentially using one’s councillor influence for the financial gain or benefits to their associated business/employer,” regardless of whether he attended as a town councillor or a company employee.
“I thought it was just another day at TransAlta,” Oliver told the Breeze.
“I don’t think I was in a conflict of interest,” he said, noting that the info session was no different than the dozen other public meetings he’s attended for other TransAlta projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
His professional involvement with Riplinger would happen after the project is built, assuming that it’s approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission, which regulates the province’s utility sector.
“Sometimes, I conduct my life and forget that people view me as a town councillor. I’m now aware of this potential perception and I’ll manage my affairs with that in mind,” he said.
Oliver recused himself when council addressed the letter at chambers.
“From my point of view, we really have no jurisdiction [over Riplinger] unless we become an intervener somehow: We’re not really involved,” Mayor Don Anderberg said.
TransAlta has not submitted an application to the AUC on behalf of Riplinger, nor has it put in for the necessary permitting for the transmission line, James Mottershead, spokesperson for TransAlta, told the Breeze on Feb. 17. A consultant retained by TransAlta said the transmission line would likely go through the MD, but qualified that it would be routed according to the Alberta Electric System Operator, the non-profit organization that oversees planning for the province’s electrical grid.
Pincher Creek town council unanimously voted to conduct a review of its code of conduct.
“Council members must be vigilant to avoid any perception or actual activity which may be seen as a conflict of interest” and “must never use their influence as elected representatives for personal advantage,” the code states.
“Frankly, I get paid the same whether Riplinger gets built or not. So, there’s no financial gain for me,” Oliver said.
By Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 08, 2023 at 10:45