The number one reason to support the proposed TransCanada Energy (TCE) pumped storage plant is that the planet is facing a climate emergency. TCE claims that the project “is one of Canada’s largest climate initiatives”, and that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 465,000 tonnes per year. Few people have the time or the expertise to verify such claims so they take them at face value. Do they pass scrutiny?
TCE’s website reveals that these figures are based entirely upon the estimated reduction in generation from the Province’s gas plants as a result of the future pumped storage plant. The proposed plant, however, will use off-peak emission free electricity that would have been sold to neighbouring states that rely on coal and gas. Of the energy that Ontario exported in 2019, approximately 9,566,000 MWh was exported to Michigan, 520,000 MWh to Minnesota, and 6,318,000 MWh to New York (IESO). As 50% to 70% of the electricity produced by these states is from coal and natural gas, curtailing exports of clean energy to the United States will actually increase GHGs by between 700,000 and 1,400,000 tonnes per year depending on whether the energy was sourced from gas or coal.
GHG emissions will be further increased by deforestation and the fossil fuel energy needed to produce the necessary steel and concrete and to power the trucks and heavy earth-moving equipment. The net result is a substantial increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
The second most important reason that people are inclined to support the proposed pumped storage plant is TCE’s claim that it will save Ontario ratepayers $250 million annually. As the project uses 30% more electricity than it produces (ref. TCE), it is only economically viable if there is a substantial differential between daytime and night-time electricity rates.
New technologies and the current major shift to night-time charging of electric vehicles will significantly reduce this differential. Automakers are rapidly shifting from fossil fuel to electric vehicle production and already 14 countries have passed or proposed legislation banning the future sale of passenger vehicles powered by fossil fuels. At some point, perhaps even before completion in 2028, the plant risks becoming uneconomic and being forced to reduce or even cease operations. TCE will be saved harmless as they are a regulated utility and are paid a set rate of return on their capital investment. The financial burden and the cost of decommissioning will fall entirely on the people of Ontario.
Despite the passage of a half century, TCE’s proposal mirrors what was done in Ludington on Lake Michigan. Neither Ludington nor TCE’s proposed plant incorporate deep water offshore intakes. Nor do they incorporate velocity caps so that fish are not drawn in. Bruce Nuclear and Darlington have both. A landmark study in 1980 – a baseline for mitigation requirements by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the U.S. – estimated that Ludington’s intake pipes sucked up and killed 532 million fish annually. About 99% of the fish killed were larval and juvenile fish. “Given the extensive environmental damage, they realized they would never get a facility like that permitted again in Michigan” (Mark Coscarelli, Great Lakes Fisheries Trust).
The material excavated from the 375 acre upper reservoir will be deposited in Georgian Bay to create break walls. The Fisheries Act states: Thou shall not cause death of fish and Thou shall not destroy fish habitat. This project will most definitely do both.
Excavation in the water and the subsequent inflows and outflows will disturb near-shore clay and cause significant turbidity. This will seriously affect habitat, water quality, and tourism.
There are many residences near the proposed site. The nearest is approximately 100 metres from the plant. Light, noise, and dust during construction will be substantial. A reservoir containing 23 million cubic metres of water will be located up gradient from where families live.
You cannot get a building permit to build directly below a dam. Building a dam above existing homes should not be permitted either.
The economy of the Municipality of Meaford depends in large part on tourism and attracting visitors and new residents. We have very little industry, but we do have rolling hills, forests, the Niagara Escarpment, and the crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay. Whereas most rural communities, including Ludington, are losing people, we are growing due to these physical attributes. This project does not fit in our community. It is incompatible with the municipality’s strategic priorities and long term vision.
The proposed site was originally part of the main Niagara Escarpment (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve) all of which was protected from development.
Preliminary investigations identify as many as 11 species at risk using the lands and water within the vicinity of the project. Neither TC Energy, nor DND have acknowledged this despite the fact that DND’s Defence Energy and Environment Strategy (DEES) required all bases to have species at risk work plans completed by March 31, 2019.
Other renewable energy technologies exist or are being developed that cost less and have real environmental and carbon emission benefits. They can be constructed near heavy users, without the need for new transmission corridors, without causing death to fish, destroying fish habitat, or habitat for species at risk. These technologies include innovative smart controllers, compressed air storage, pumped thermal storage, and small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick have signed an MOU to develop SMRs “to fight climate change, reduce emissions, generate low cost energy, and create economic opportunities.” The technology exists to produce reactors that are small, scalable, cannot melt down, cannot be used to make weapons, and produce minimal low level nuclear waste.
Pumped storage should only be considered where a closed loop system is employed. Northland Power is developing such a plant in Marmora, Ontario. The lower reservoir is an abandoned open pit mine that has already filled with water. The local community, Council, and Wardens Caucus all support it. Environmental impacts are positive – it’s a great way to rehabilitate abandoned mine sites. There are other abandoned mine sites that would be much better candidates for pumped storage than Georgian Bay.
If TCE cannot amend its plans to incorporate a lower reservoir, separate from the Bay, its proposal should be rejected on that metric alone.
TCE does not have a good environmental record. Major spills from its pipelines have exceeded projections, and a past audit by the National Energy Board found that TransCanada was non-compliant in hazard identification, operational control, inspection, measurement and monitoring, and management review. Non-compliance was addressed only after one of its engineers complained, not proactively by the company’s management system.
This project affects not only Meaford, but all of Ontario. Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment are two of Canada’s crown jewels. The bay is surrounded by national, provincial and municipal parks. The entire Eastern Shore is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, as is the Niagara Escarpment.
Over 26,000 people have signed a petition opposing this project. The Georgian Bay Association and the Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation are also opposed.
For the record I do not live near the proposed pumped storage plant.
Jim Brunow, Meaford