Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Council Defers Decision on Pumped Storage Advisory Committee Terms of Reference

Meaford council has deferred discussion and any decision on the terms of reference for the recently announced Pumped Storage Advisory Committee, after TC Energy expressed displeasure with the document prior to council’s discussion of the agenda item at their February 12 meeting.

Clark Little, Community Relations Representative for the Ontario Pumped Storage Project, attended Monday’s council meeting and made a deputation to council in which he shared TC Energy’s concerns about the Pumped Storage Advisory Committee.

Little read from a letter that had been sent to Interim CAO Matt Smith on February 9, by John Mikkelsen, Project Director, for TC Energy.

Since our earliest engagement with the Municipality, TC Energy has worked diligently to build a relationship based on collaboration and transparency, with commitments and processes to recover reasonably incurred costs borne by the Municipality, and to build a lasting long-term partnership with Meaford enshrined through a Community Benefit Agreement,” Mikkelsen wrote. “While we remain fully committed to these principles and processes, we are concerned and disappointed by the lack of consultation and collaboration concerning the proposed Pumped Storage Advisory Committee and are requesting deferral of Council’s consideration of the Pumped Storage Advisory Committee to ensure fulsome discussions between TC Energy and the Municipality.”

Mikkelsen shared in his letter that TC Energy is disappointed with the proposed terms of reference presented in a report to council.

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,” Mikkelsen wrote.

The Independent requested and received a copy of the letter from TC Energy, which was also copied to both Mayor Ross Kentner and Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney.

In the report to council pertaining to the advisory committee terms of reference, Interim CAO Smith explained the purpose of the advisory committee.

The committee’s purpose will be to ‘focus on understanding potential benefits and impacts associated with the proposed Pumped Storage Project and foster meaningful community engagement’. Staff anticipate that the committee will play a valuable role in guiding the Municipality on the concerns and interests of the community as a whole, and help guide the Municipality’s response to the Impact Assessment and Environmental Assessment process. The Advisory Committee will also play a role in the Community Benefit process, assisting in identifying priorities for the community and making recommendations to Council,” Smith advised in his report to council. “The terms of reference are based on similar principles to those of other municipal advisory committees, such as transparency, but are more extensive than other committees to recognize the unique nature of this project, and the likelihood that this committee will require an annual budget for meetings, particularly for expert participation. Due to the timeline of the project and the breadth of work for the committee, monthly meetings are proposed. The terms of reference also recommend that these meetings take place outside of regular working hours due to the expected interest in them.”

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.

The report to council notes that council and the municipality are striving to ensure broad representation on the advisory committee. The document states 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.

Staff believe that these terms of reference are comprehensive and will allow for the Advisory Committee to perform a key representative role. Recruitment for committee members began on February 1, with a closing date of March 1, 2024. Staff anticipate that Council will appoint members on March 11, 2024, with meetings commencing shortly afterwards, initially focused on training and knowledge development activities,” Smith advised in his report to council.

TC Energy’s objections to the terms of reference for the advisory committee, along with concerns expressed by members of council about the document, prompted council to discuss deferral of a council decision on the terms of reference to allow time for council to understand TC Energy’s objections. Council voted 6-1 in favour of deferring a decision for two weeks.

We do need, in my opinion, to continue to have a collaborative relationship with TC Energy, although there’s going to be times when we agree to disagree, or perhaps completely disagree,” Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney told council. “But I want to reiterate that I fully support this committee going forward, but we do need to get it right, we do have time on our side.”

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