It has been four years since the pumped storage plant proposal was first announced, four long, exhausting years.
TC Energy’s proposal to build a hydroelectric pumped storage plant on the grounds of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in Meaford was immediately met with significant and vocal opposition within days of us learning of it in the late summer of 2019.
Advocacy group Save Georgian Bay was quickly formed, and they began raising awareness and lobbying governments at all levels to put a stop to what they predict would be an environmental disaster should the project be allowed to move forward.
For Meaford’s council, the one level of government with the least say in the matter (meaning virtually none), yet serving the community that would be most impacted by the project, these four years have without doubt been years of frustration. Four years of being yelled at by angry residents, four years of being called every name in the book, four years of being demanded to put a stop to something over which they have no power, four years of even having to endure local residents proclaiming that we should ‘check their bank accounts’, and other blatant accusations that members of council have somehow been ‘in on the plot’ and are benefiting personally.
In recent months council has been working to control what little they can in this process, and they have engaged a couple of consulting firms at a cost of several million dollars (which will ultimately be reimbursed by TC Energy) to help guide the municipality through the long and complex process to identify the various conditions that this municipality can put in place should the project move forward, and to begin negotiating for community benefits that this community will most certainly have earned given the frustrations already endured, and the many that are to come, particularly should the proposal become a reality.
Whether the project is to move forward or not could become much more clear later this month as Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is expected to make its long anticipated decision on whether it deems the proposed $4.5 billion project to be worthwhile, followed by a decision from the province’s Ministry of Energy. Should the project clear those hurdles, there will be environmental impact studies to pore over, and many more debates in our future.
Given their lack of any real sway on the issue, the best Meaford’s council can really do is to work to ensure that this municipality is protected as much as possible from any negative impacts resulting from the project, while at the same time negotiate for ‘community benefits’. Which is why this municipality has engaged two consulting firms, and is now in the process of recruiting a Project Administrator who will dedicate all of their time to the proposed project.
Council and staff have also made clear that public engagement in the coming months will be essential in ensuring that all concerns are brought forward for consideration and discussion, and any of those concerns that can be mitigated be identified. The process to come will be as lengthy and as filled with frustrations as the past four years have been, but at least there will be less uncertainty after we have a clearer understanding of whether the project will move forward.
My hope is that, as we enter into this next phase, Meaford residents, opponents and supporters of the proposal alike, will remain engaged and will participate in the public input initiatives that are to come. I am certain that the most vocal will continue to be so, but after four years, many might be inclined to throw up their hands in despair and tune out. As the municipality works to gather community input on both the concerns with and fears of the potential damage the project could thrust upon our local environment and the bay itself, as well as what benefits this municipality should realize given the years of construction, the years of heavy equipment and large transport trucks moving through this municipality that will come should the project ultimately be given the final green light to move forward, I do hope that many remain engaged in the process.
As I wrote back in July, should it proceed, this pumped storage project will be of a size not many of us have ever experienced. The more than $4 billion project is expected to take four years to build. During that time this community will see an influx of some 800 workers from outside this municipality, along with a virtual parade of large transport trucks and heavy equipment moving through this community en route to the Base, bringing with it traffic frustration, noise, and a host of other potential issues. Those years of inconvenience should be worth something – in fact it should be worth a lot.
We have already been down a long and at times twisted road over the past four years, and much of the anxiety that we have collectively felt is due to the uncertainty of whether this project will actually become a reality, and of what negative impacts we can expect in this community both during the construction of the project, and after it is up and running.
Hopefully in the very near future we should at least have a better idea of the future of the proposal, and with the wheels already set in motion for this municipality to gather an independent technical assessment of the project from the consultants that have been engaged, as well as any mitigation tools that might be in the hands of this municipality, some of that anxiety should be lessened. And while any community benefits that we can negotiate won’t soothe the souls of those most vocally opposed to the project, at the very least any benefits realized will be a recognition of the angst and frustration this community has already endured, along with what will be endured in the years to come should the proposed project move forward and become a reality.