A special meeting of Council was held on Monday, June 1, during which members of Council discussed a report from staff focused on the proposed electric pumped storage facility on the Tank Range.
Though the meeting was held virtually, to respect the continued ban on gatherings of more than five people due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the meeting included nine public deputations, and it was watched live on the municipality's YouTube channel by roughly 75 viewers. Previous virtual council meetings have attracted an average of roughly ten viewers during the live stream of meetings. By Tuesday morning the archived three-hour video of the meeting had already been viewed more than 250 times, indicating significant public interest in the issue.
The report had been expected to be presented to Council in April, however it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there were concerns that the public would not be able to attend council for the release of the report due to stay-at-home and social distancing measures implemented by the province.
Proponent TC Energy has been granted permission to undertake a feasibility study, and the temporary access agreement provides TC Energy with one year of access in order to complete its studies. The DND is conducting its own study, which will determine if the proposed facility could co-exist with activities at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre.
According to TC Energy, the proposed hydroelectric pumped storage facility would “consume inexpensive off-peak power at night to pump water from Georgian Bay into a storage reservoir located at the top of the Niagara Escarpment on 4th CDTC property. The reservoir would be emptied back into Georgian Bay during peak usage periods, driving hydraulic turbines to generate electricity.”
The report presented to Council was prepared in order to help form the official municipal response to the DND in advance of the end of the July 31 commenting period for its study.
Though some in the public, particularly on social media, have suggested that Council supports the pumped storage proposal, the message was clear from the majority of Council that they have serious concerns about the proposal and any support in the future would hinge on a long list of identified concerns that need to be addressed.
Before Council debated the report themselves, they heard nine deputations from members of the public, the DND, as well as the proponent TC Energy.
Peter Crain, Director General Portfolio Requirements at Department of National Defence, told Council that for the DND the primary consideration is if the proposed facility could co-exist with military activities on the base.
“DND is undertaking to do an impact assessment based on DND's requirements,” Crain told Council. “Largely on our ability to continue training Canadian forces personnel on the base, but also to assess our short, medium, and long-term liabilities if this project were to proceed.”
Should TC Energy's proposed pumped storage facility clear the first hurdle – approval from the DND to move forward – environmental assessments will be undertaken, a lengthy process which will allow for both municipal input as well as the ability to appeal should the need arise.
In addition to members of the public and the DND, TC Energy participated in the virtual council meeting with a deputation of their own. In their five minute allotment, Clark Little of TC Energy told Council that the company has been listening to the concerns of the municipality, and they pointed to the recently announced changes to the design of the facility with intake pipes positioned in deeper water, and the facility itself largely hidden from view. They also, for the first time, pledged to run the transmission lines under the bay rather than on land.
“This is a world class clean energy project. It uses cutting edge technology, the absolute most modern technology as planned, and the team is guided by principles of professionalism, integrity, and transparency,” Little told Council. “We have made a major redesign of the concept. The power house has been moved off the shoreline toward the reservoir, and will be placed underground. The new inlet-outlet design is offshore further in deeper water. It comes up from the bottom and utilizes horizontal flow and greatly reduces velocity of the water.”
In addition to those recently announced changes to the design, Little noted a new plan for transmission lines, a concern that has been expressed by many opponents to the project.
“The hydro corridor is now considered to be under water through Georgian Bay, and then from there to the closest hook-up point near Stayner,” Little told Council.
After the nine deputations Council received a formal presentation of the report from CAO Rob Armstrong. After some initial discussion and debate, Council members were given an opportunity to share their positions on the proposal, and those positions largely mirror the position of the greater community. The message from Council was clear – any support for the proposal is conditioned on assurances that the concerns of the municipality will be addressed in full, and the top priority is the protection of the environment.
Members of Council expressed thanks to local activist group Save Georgian Bay for their input and their work in raising awareness in the community about the proposal. Municipal staff consulted members of Save Georgian Bay as the report to council was being researched and prepared.
After significant debate, members of Council strengthened the language in the motions for Council to consider, and the following motions were unanimously approved:
That Council of the Municipality of Meaford:
Directs staff to submit a letter to the Department of National Defence and TC Energy highlighting the issues identified in report CAO2020-03 and requesting that the Department of National Defence confirm that the issues identified will be addressed by DND or other applicable Federal regulatory body, prior to granting approval by the Dominion Water Power Act to proceed with the project.
Declares their support for the proposed TC Energy project proceeding to the applicable Environmental Assessment approvals process, provided that the Department of National Defence or other applicable Federal regulatory body, confirms that the issues will be addressed, and grants approval to TC Energy to proceed with the applicable Environmental Assessment approvals process; and
Directs staff to retain a Project Manager to coordinate the peer review of studies and to negotiate an agreement with TC Energy with regard to compensation of the municipal costs.
Those wanting to offer input or opinions about the proposal can send an e-mail with feedback to Holly King, Section Head, Directorate Real Property Services, DND, at ThirdPartyAccess@forces.gc.ca. The deadline for submission of comments is July 31.
More information can be found by visiting www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/campaigns/consultations-4th-division-hydroelectric-pumped-storage-meaford.html and www.tcenergy.com/operations/power/pumped-storage-project/.
What Did Members of Council Have to Say?
During the June 1 special meeting, each member of Council was allotted five minutes to share their own positions on the proposed project. Below is a sample of what each member of Council had to say:
Councillor Steve Bartley:
Our community vision says it all. 'The municipality has a number of significant environmental and topographical features that contribute to the sense of place'. The official plan states an environment-first philosophy, which means that protecting significant natural and heritage features takes precedence over development. This says it all.
I'd like to thank Rob (Armstrong, CAO) for his report, I think it is a good report, I think it's bang on. And I'd like to thank TCE for the first changes they've done to their design. They've made three changes and I like them all if this thing goes forward.
If you remember, I was the councillor that brought forward the climate change motion for the municipality. Contrary to some beliefs, I truly believe that once operating it will be a negative carbon producer, and the third party process will tell me if I'm right or wrong.
I want to put a huge thank you out to the Save Georgian Bay group. At times conversations got heated, but I did not view this as disrespectful, I viewed it as passion, pure passion, and I thank you for that. And I believe that without the group's participation, TCE would not have changed any of their plans.
Councillor Tony Bell:
The reason I have not spoken earlier is that decision-making requires identifying and isolating situations, and it does take time. I recognize the supreme importance of public input. I promote public involvement. We as a municipality are to foster activities and proposals for economic, social, and environmental well-being of our municipality.
Save Georgian Bay has been outstanding. Their comments have been well thought through, and well researched. Personally I am a conservationist. I fish, I hunt; wildlife, water, air, all of it is important to me.
To say that we could declare ourselves as an unwilling host, probably wouldn't be worth the paper and pencil or pen that's used to write it. It would cost us money to fight it.
TC Energy has modified and changed its plans, the latest was May 26, and in no small part due to the voice of Save Georgian Bay.
Councillor Harley Greenfield:
If this question was left to the Municipality of Meaford's official plan, or community vision, I don't think we'd be going any further. I really don't think it lives up to a number of the clauses in there. However, it's not up to the Municipality of Meaford to make this judgment call. I believe in conservation, and nature, and the environment. One of the reasons I have stayed here for all my many many years is because I love this area. I love the water, I love the hills, I love the greenery. I want to preserve that, I want to keep that.
If this was a final vote today I would be voting no on this project. I don't see it as a final vote today.
I worry about the social and economic problems. What will this project do for the overall mood of our residents? How will it affect their comfort level? How is it going to affect their quality of life in the future? I'm worried about that.
In the spirit of fair play I will vote today in favour of going forward with this recommendation. I am by no means satisfied that this is the right fit for our beautiful municipality.
Councillor Ross Kentner:
I'm not convinced of the need for this project. Projections of Ontario's hydro needs can be very fluid, and this decade is going to see significant changes and progress in storage technologies, and if we should run short, Quebec has an over-supply.
Number two, I'm not convinced of the claimed benefits. It's a big stretch to label this as a green energy project. The construction phase will raise our CO2 emissions, and the emissions saved when it starts operating will simply be shifted to neighbouring American states – there is no CO2 border.
Most of all I am not in favour of turning our back on our official plan which puts the environment ahead of development. Unfortunately I believe that this motion at the very least will give a soft endorsement to a project which may be more disruptive than its economic upside is worth. A project that could damage the pristine waters of Nottawasaga Bay, the water that we drink. A project that may yet see a high tension power corridor cut through the Bighead and Beaver valleys, both of which would damage the economic pillar of tourism, and reduce property values.
Councillor Paul Vickers:
I have concern about some of the information that has been coming forward. TCE cannot say anything that they cannot back up with a third party audit, I would propose that maybe we should have more of this from people giving us information.
I would like to see Save Georgian Bay come forward with a third party audit on any statement they want to say. I don't think it's right that one side, TCE, has to verify every comment they make while the other side can say whatever they want and never have to worry about backing it up.
This is an important issue that we are getting a lot of misrepresentation, a lot of misinformation being told to us that can't be backed up by science. This is what it's all about, it's about science. As much as people want it to be about passion and what their family has done and what their family wants to do, but it has to be based on science. If this project is needed, and can perform the way it is supposed to then we should be willing to let science dictate that. The emotion that we feel in our hearts isn't always the best way to go about deciding what projects should be completed and what shouldn't be.
This project to me is a lot about jobs. I believe in the environment just as much as anybody else, and I'm not willing to see it being sacrificed, but the other part is about jobs. Over the years I have heard time and time again how the municipality has shut down an opportunity to bring jobs into the area. Some will say that 20 jobs isn't that many, well 20 people would be the biggest influx of jobs from one project into this municipality. Forget the other jobs of building it, the 20 jobs we could get out of this is the biggest employer improvement that we've ever seen in this area.
Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney:
This discussion today on the TC Energy proposal is probably the most important of any agenda item to come before this Council. This is the largest project ever proposed for Meaford. We need to take our time with this, we must be sure our comments to the DND are right for this municipality.
I want to thank everyone who prepared and delivered deputations to council today, I appreciate your thoughts and the information you have provided us. I want to sincerely thank the Save Georgian Bay organization for your ongoing efforts in raising awareness of the concerns surrounding this proposal. You've been respectful of Council, you communicate well and often, and you have educated us on many of the impacts this pumped storage facility could bring to our area.
If this project goes forward it will change the face of Meaford forever. That image is a lot to digest. We know the Council of the Municipality of Meaford has no jurisdiction over the approval process for this proposal but I do believe we have the opportunity to be significantly influential over decisions going forward. I don't believe acquiring all of the approvals will be an easy task for TC (Energy).
Mayor Barb Clumpus:
This has really been a tremendous effort all the way around. The report is excellent, it's comprehensive. The intent and the priorities of the report are clear.
This report recommends that we support moving on to the environmental assessment to gather more information, and in fact our questions, most of them are environmental in nature, can't be answered and addressed except through a thorough environmental assessment.
It is not until after that time that a discussion should be considered on a definitive position one way or the other supporting the project further, or declining. These questions are extremely important to our residents, to us making the decision, and to our future. We are the stewards of our environment, and it is incumbent upon us to make sure that all of our issues, all of our questions are addressed.