Sunday, April 21, 2024

Council Approves Terms of Reference For Pumped Storage Advisory Committee

After deferring discussion and decision regarding the terms of reference for the recently announced Pumped Storage Advisory Committee two weeks ago, council saw the item return to their agenda for their February 26 meeting.

Council had deferred making a decision on the terms of reference after TC Energy expressed displeasure with the document prior to council’s discussion of the agenda item at their February 12 meeting.

In short, we are disappointed that the proposal (CAO 2024-5) and TOR (terms of reference) were formulated in isolation, without collaboration or input from TC Energy. As constituted, we have concerns ranging from prospective membership – specifically TC Energy’s absence – to questions about the scope and mandate of the Committee and costs associated with the activities and operation of the Committee,” John Mikkelsen, Project Director for TC Energy, wrote in a letter that was shared at council’s February 12 meeting.

On February 26, the council chamber was overflowing with residents concerned about what they viewed as TC Energy attempting to control the makeup of the committee. Nine residents had registered to present a deputation to council related to the pumped storage advisory committee, sending a clear message to council that many residents did not want TC Energy to be involved in an advisory committee that is aimed to research and advise council on the controversial pumped storage proposal.

Once council began discussing the pumped storage advisory committee terms of reference, it was clear that council agreed that TC Energy should not have a representative included on the committee, which, after council’s amendments approved at their February 26 meeting, will consist of nine residents and two non-voting council members.

Many of you have taken the time to email us, and we appreciate that very much,” Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney told council. “Please know that I have read all of your notes, but I haven’t had time to respond everyone, but you have all suggested that you do not feel it’s appropriate for TCE to be a member of this committee, and I want you to know that I do agree with you.”

Deputy Mayor Keaveney noted that committee meetings are open to the public and can be attended by anyone including representatives of TC Energy.

Council spent nearly an hour discussing the terms of reference for the committee at the February 26 meeting, making a handful of amendments before voting to approve the amended document.

Council voted in favour of removing references to specific groups in the terms of reference.

The original draft of the document stated that representatives from Save Georgian Bay, the ‘Impact Zone’ Residents group, the Meaford Chamber of Commerce, along with a youth member under the age of 25 should be appointed to the committee. Council voted in favour of removing reference to Save Georgian Bay, the ‘Impact Zone’ residents group, and the Chamber of Commerce, noting that eligibility for the committee should be open to any and all residents of the municipality.

Council also opted to make some other minor amendments to the terms of reference, including increasing the number of council members on the committee from one to two (non-voting).

Council also asked for the deadline for interested residents to apply for a position on the advisory committee to be extended to March 15.

What we are trying to do is to depoliticize these terms of reference,” Mayor Ross Kentner told council. “People who may be interested in serving on this committee, and having a voice in probably the most important decision that has had to be made by a council in Meaford in all its history, 150 years. It’s very important that we get it right.”

After council’s decision on the terms of reference for the committee, TC Energy submitted a letter to The Independent.

As a tool for continued collaboration and dialogue on the Project, we respect and fully support Meaford’s interest in establishing a Pumped Storage Advisory Committee (Committee). We commend the Municipality for being proactive and taking action to initiate it. As a company, we have been part of many community committees over the years and have seen firsthand how diversity of opinion can shape better projects,” wrote John Mikkelsen, Project Director for TC Energy. “During Meaford Council’s February 12 meeting, we asked Council to support a process that would enable more community feedback and input on the proposed terms of reference for the Committee. To clarify, we want the Committee to move forward, and we want it to be valuable for the community and for Council. To achieve this, however, we believe more community engagement on the terms of reference would be valuable to ensure that the Committee is ultimately effective, representative and inclusive.”

The proposed pumped storage facility has raised concerns among many Meaford residents since it was first announced in 2019. Save Georgian Bay, a local advocacy group, has been working to raise awareness of, and opposition to, the proposed facility. The group has held a number of protest rallies, and has collected thousands of signatures on petitions opposing the proposed facility. Recently, Save Georgian Bay has been calling upon bay area municipalities to express opposition to the proposed pumped storage plant.

The concerns of opponents are many, ranging from fears that the facility would have negative impacts on the environment, including negatively impacting fish in the bay, to concerns that homeowners in close proximity to the site could be in danger of flooding should the reservoir fail.

TC Energy, on the other hand, says the more than $4 billion proposal is a green initiative that would consume inexpensive off-peak power at night to pump water from Georgian Bay into a 374-acre storage reservoir located 150 metres above the Georgian Bay shoreline on the military base. The reservoir, which would hold 20 million cubic metres of water, would be emptied back into Georgian Bay during peak usage periods, driving hydraulic turbines to generate electricity.

In July of last year, council approved the appointment of two consulting firms, StrategyCorp, and Ainley Group, to assist council and the municipality in moving through the process.

StrategyCorp were engaged to work on the development and negotiation of a community benefit agreement with TCE, while Ainley Group were awarded project coordinator services,” noted the report to council. “Since that time, staff have had initial conversations with both organizations, in an effort to ensure that the municipal work related to this project move forward smoothly. Staff intend to provide Council with a quarterly update on the TCE Pumped Storage project, generally at the first meeting of each quarter, along with additional information as required.”

Council’s final vote on the terms of reference for the Pumped Storage Advisory Committee will take place during their March 11 council meeting.

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