Monday, June 24, 2024

Council Votes in Favour of Motion Offering Conditional Support For Pumped Storage Proposal

Meaford’s council has voted 5-2 in favour of a motion brought forward by Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney, that expresses conditional support for the controversial hydroelectric pumped storage facility proposed by TC Energy to be constructed on Meaford’s military base.

The February 27 council meeting was moved to the opera house at Meaford Hall in order to accommodate a larger audience than can be accommodated in the council chamber. Roughly 200 residents turned out to the meeting, with 22 having registered to provide a deputation to council. Though the municipal procedural bylaw, which governs the proceedings at council meetings, limits the number of deputations in any council meeting to 10, council voted in favour of waiving that limit in order to allow all who had registered to speak to council.

A number of those who spoke to council, expressed strong opposition to the proposal, while some shared their support for the project.

The proposed 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.

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 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.

Though many residents who stepped to the microphone to speak to the issue were opposed to the proposal, a number of residents spoke in favour of the proposal citing climate change, energy needs, and economic development in the Municipality of Meaford as reasons for supporting the project.

Deputy Mayor Keaveney’s motion provides conditional support for the construction and operation of a 1,000 MW Pumped Storage Facility to the Provincial Minister of Energy, subject to the following conditions:

  1. Written confirmation from TC Energy of complete cost recovery for all costs reasonably incurred by the Municipality in relation to the proposed facility and that the aforementioned costs will be expeditiously reimbursed by TC Energy;
  2. Development of a regulatory plan and related information gathering and disclosure requirements to address the central role and future actions of the Municipality regarding the Proposed facility over its life-cycle from planning to decommissioning;
  3. Formal agreement between the Municipality and TC Energy on Community Benefits covering short-, medium- and long-term benefits, including ultimate ratification of the agreement by Council;
  4. Approval of the proposed facility by all relevant jurisdictions under all applicable environmental energy, and land use processes, including any applicable environmental and/or impact assessments, and all applicable regulatory approvals, authorizations, licenses, and permits.

That the Community Benefits Agreement shall include both community benefits and mitigation for project related community impacts;

And that Mayor Kentner is hereby directed to send a letter to the Provincial Minister of Energy on behalf of the Municipality of Meaford, indicating conditional support for the Pumped Storage Project.

In a recorded vote, council approved the Deputy Mayor’s motion 5-2, with only Councillors Harley Greenfield, and Brandon Forder voting against.

Both Greenfield and Forder were passionate in their expression of opposition to the motion, with Greenfield noting that “I don’t want to be a company town, a TCE town.”

Though many opponents of the proposal have been demanding a referendum on the issue in order to determine public support, or opposition to the proposal, in Ontario municipalities are limited in their options, and the time for a referendum would have been during the last municipal election.

The only thing in Ontario that is like a referendum is a question on the ballot at election time,” municipal Clerk Matt Smith, told The Independent in response to a query about the potential for a referendum. “There are a couple of ways this can happen – either Council can pass a by-law to submit a specific question to the electors, or the Minister of Municipal Affairs or the upper-tier Council can require a question be added to the ballot. All of this has to be decided by March 1 (for our Council) or May 1 (for Minister and upper-tier) of an election year. The only circumstance that the public can petition for a question on the ballot is under the Fluoridation Act.”

The Clerk also suggested that he is not certain that a question pertaining to the proposed pumped storage facility would have qualified as a ballot question.

It’s really important to note that the Municipal Elections Act limits what can be part of a question on the ballot,” Smith told The Independent, noting that section 8.1 of the Act notes that a ballot question must concern a matter within the jurisdiction of the municipality. “I am by no means certain that a question related to the TCE project would be classed as being within the jurisdiction of the Municipality.”

Asked if any polling had been undertaken in order to ascertain the level of public opposition or support of the proposal, Jennifer Link of TC Energy told The Independent that thus far, no polling has taken place, though there are plans to do so.

At this time, our information is more anecdotal in nature,” Link told The Independent. “By the numbers, we held 50 community coffee chats with Meaford residents in 2022 and another 12 in 2023, and knocked on nearly every door in Meaford, including conversations with more than 35 per cent of residents at their homes. Through these sessions and conversations we’ve heard a diversity of views that have helped strengthen our planning for the project. From our interactions,  we’ve seen that the more folks have had a chance to have their questions answered and understand the benefits of this project, the more excited they get about it moving forward. We know there are many community members supportive of this project and look forward to the opportunity to work with Meaford Council on a Community Betterment Agreement.”

A report presented to council on July 25 of last year, at the request of council, highlighted early exploration efforts by municipal staff, including discussions with TC Energy representatives to understand the range of benefits that the municipality could negotiate with the corporation in recognition of both the need for an annual payment in lieu of taxes to the municipality, along with acknowledging the sacrifices, frustrations, and inconveniences that residents of the municipality would endure throughout the many years of construction before the facility is ready for operation.

The 12-page report noted that TC Energy still has many obstacles ahead before their proposed project can be approved.

TC Energy has indicated that the next step in their approval process is to obtain approval from the Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO) to receive the electricity that could be produced from the Pumped Storage Facility. This approval is to be considered next year,” the report noted. “In addition, TC Energy has indicated that they continue to work on their numerous studies that will be required as part of the Federal and Provincial assessment processes. These studies are also intended to address the municipal concerns raised in the 2020 report.”

Staff explained that to begin the process of exploring the potential for municipal benefits that could be realized, they met with representatives from TC Energy for discussions. Regarding the potential for an annual payment in lieu of taxes, TC Energy has proposed a potential annual payment of $1.5 million to the municipality.

TCE has identified that the property is exempt from the payment of taxes or any payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) under the Dominion Water Power Act,” the report informed. “However, they have noted that TCE would be willing to make a tax equity payment to the Municipality in a similar fashion to the PILT. TCE has identified a potential yearly payment of $1.5 million as the tax equity payment.”

Mayor Ross Kentner, who had publicly opposed the proposed facility prior to the October municipal election, gaining the support of Save Georgian Bay and its members, has received criticism for his change of stance on the issue, but he told council during Monday’s meeting that it is important to begin discussions with TC Energy.

I think it’s very prudent of us to begin discussing the future with TC Energy. I believe they have altered their plan very substantially from an environmental point of view, and they have been striving hard to communicate with our community,” noted Mayor Kentner at the February 27, meeting.

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