Meaford mega power storage project draws concerns
Map by TC Energy
By Scott Dunn Owen Sound Sun Times October 23, 2019
It was standing room only at a recent meeting about a proposed hydroelectric pump storage plant on the military training centre in Meaford, a facility with a projected opening date of 2027.
More than 200 residents packed the Meaford community centre for an information session organized by Save Georgian Bay, a citizens group concerned about possible environmental effects of the proposed project by TC Energy, formerly Trans Canada Corporation.
The plant would pump water from Georgian Bay 150 metres up the Niagara Escarpment to a man-made reservoir during off-peak electricity demand hours. The water would then be allowed to flow back down through turbines to produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity during high demand periods, when electricity is more expensive.
TCE has modelled the proposed plant after one in Ludington, Michigan, which was constructed in the 1960s. It was designed to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity, but its capacity has been increased to 1,800 megawatts.
Though the Meaford project would be “similar in functionality” to the Ludington site, it would “integrate modern technology in the design and operation of the facility,” the company said in an emailed response to questions Wednesday.
Opponents say this is old technology from the 1960s and new technologies for energy storage and conservation are now available and can be built at less cost than the estimated $3.3 billion price tag for the proposed plant and closer to the main electric grid, eliminating the need for a massive transmission infrastructure.
There are concerns electricity supplied by the plant would be transmitted by high-voltage transmission lines running through residential properties and farmland of Grey County and Essa Township in nearby Simcoe County.
But the company said it would consider several transmission routing options and technologies through the environmental assessment process “and will be undertaking an extensive engagement program with communities and stakeholders to understand interests and concerns.”
The company’s approach is to “avoid sensitive or valued features, where possible” and use existing footprints and rights-of-way “to the extent practical to minimize new disturbance.”
Residents at the meeting raised concerns that the plant will destroy a stretch of pristine shoreline, restrict the passage of fish, wildlife and even small boat traffic, as well as stir up the clay bottom of the bay, causing turbidity and affecting drinking water quality for communities along Nottawasaga Bay as far away as Collingwood.
Company spokesman Terry Cunha said in the statement “We’re committed to protecting the environment” and the company “will undertake a detailed environmental assessment to fully understand local conditions and concerns and potential effects of the project.
“All studies will be available to the public, including the environmental assessment, economic impact study and regulatory filings.”
He said open houses will be scheduled in the community and the company will be providing opportunities for the community to provide input and review outcomes concerning the various environmental and socio-economic studies and assessments to be undertaken.
He said it’s early stages but the company “began community and Indigenous engagement in the second quarter of 2019. This engagement is ongoing and will continue through 2019.”
The aim is to begin environmental assessments and field studies in 2020 and if approvals are in hand, construction would occur between 2022 and 2026. The facility would be operational in 2027.
He said that TC Energy has 65 years experience operating facilities across Ontario and “our commitment is to work with our stakeholders in a meaningful and respectful way.”
A TC Energy online project overview and fact sheet on the Meaford proposal says it will be subject to regulatory approval, including through a provincial environmental assessment and a federal impact assessment, starting this spring. There will be studies such as on fisheries, wildlife, vegetation, water, archaeology, infrastructure and services, and communities and their economies to mitigate impacts and inform project design, the fact sheet says.
The company says it will reduce electricity costs by an estimated $250 million per year in Ontario and cut 465,000 tonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to removing 100,000 cars from the road each year.
The company’s published notice announcing its interest in pursuing the project said the Department of National Defence is conducting its own reviews of the proposal to ensure no conflict with current or future military training operations. DND will also have separate consultations to hear and respond to interests and concerns, the notice says.
The company, which owns 48.4 per cent of the local nuclear generation company Bruce Power, also operates pipelines, natural gas storage and power generation facilities in Canada and the United States. It employs about 7,300 people.
The project would take four years to build and involve 800 skilled workers, the notice said.
Organizers of the citizens meeting claimed that the plant would require 30 per cent more electricity than it produces.
The head of the Sunnyside Beach cottage association said there is already a surplus of power in Ontario and he sees no need to produce more.
Grey Highlands Coun. Danielle Valiquette, who just ran for the Green Party in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, said “We need opportunities to level out the power, so that we can take more renewable clean energy from Quebec. However in my opinion they have to mitigate the risks.
“I’m not coming out totally against the project, but I have great concerns for what everybody was talking about the environmental concerns.”
Meaford resident Jim Brown said TCE has been designed to make money. “TC Energy owns gas plants, nuclear plants . . . their whole purpose is just to make money. It’s not for the health and welfare of the citizens of Ontario. . . There is nothing wrong with making money, just don’t kill the people around them.”
TC Energy did not attend the meeting, nor has the company appeared before Meaford council, and that is a concern for Coun. Harley Greenfield.
“With such mounting opposition to the project why aren’t they coming forward? It would make their job a bit easier, but [it] would make council’s job a bit easier too. We need facts, we need their presence. We need them to come before the public and explain this. The public is coming to us and we can’t answer the questions. That’s frustrating,” said Greenfield said.
While many who attended the meeting appeared to be opposed to the proposed project, some suggested that more information was needed from all sides to better understand the proposal and its potential impacts, with some suggesting the project could benefit the province in the long-term.
Save Georgian Bay has launched a petition in opposition to the project that has gathered more than 8,000 signatures.