The Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) has weighed in on the proposed pumped storage facility on Meaford’s Tank Range. In a press release issued on June 16, the OCAA suggested that there are better alternatives than are found in the proposal put forward by TC Energy.
“The Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA), an organization that led the successful campaign to phase-out Ontario’s five coal-fired power plants, and are now working to move Ontario towards a 100% renewable future, are proposing a cost-effective alternative to the proposed TC Energy Corporation (formerly TransCanada Pipeline) project for a pumped storage plant (PSP) on the shore of Georgian Bay,” the organization explained in the press release. “The OCAA proposes an alternative that would benefit the Ontario ratepayer by reducing the cost by 98% of the TC Energy proposal.”
TC Energy says their 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. 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 Department of National Defence is conducting its own study, which will determine if the proposed facility could co-exist with activities at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre. Though a decision was anticipated from the DND late last year, there has not yet been any announcement of the results of their study.
The OCAA however suggests a different approach.
“TC Energy is seeking a contract from the Government of Ontario to finance the construction of its Georgian Bay PSP. The proposed PSP will pump 20 million cubic meters of water from the Georgian Bay at night to a 375-acre man-made reservoir in the Niagara Escarpment, and release it back into the bay during the day to generate electricity. The plant will use 30 percent more energy than it generates when it pumps water to the upper reservoir, generating only 1,000 megawatts of power while consuming 1,250 megawatts,” the OCAA suggested.
The OCAA has proposed extending transmission lines to use water power from Quebec during Ontario’s peak demand instead.
“Hydro One could upgrade its transmission system to allow us to import an additional 2,000 megawatts of peak Quebec water power at a cost of only approximately $80 million. Quebec could provide us with twice as much peak power as the TC Energy project at a capital cost that is 98.14 percent lower,” said Jack Gibbons, Chair, OCAA. “According to TC Energy, the PSP is the ‘most proven, economical’ way to provide us with 1,000 megawatts of peak power to help phase out Ontario’s gas-fired power plants. This is simply not true,” added Gibbons.
The proposal has been a significant concern for many Meaford area residents.
Local advocacy group Save Georgian Bay formed shortly after the proposed project became public in August of 2019. The group has collected more than 3,395 signatures on a petition opposing the proposed hydroelectric pumped storage facility on the Meaford Tank Range, and copies of the petition were delivered to Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff and MPP Bill Walker. The paper petition initiative was driven by Joseph Leung, who has been collecting signatures with a team of volunteers in Meaford and surrounding areas. The petition is 239 pages long and has 3,395 signatures from Meaford, Thornbury, Collingwood, Owen Sound, Wasaga Beach, and Barrie.
Members of Save Georgian Bay note that between the proposed reservoir and the bay are a number of residential homes, and they also suggest that the system would be wasteful.
“Every time the reservoir is filled, it will draw water from the bay plus everything living in that water. The 30% inefficiency of the PSP is also a huge waste of electricity that could otherwise meet the energy needs of a city the size of Barrie or 16 Meafords,” Bruce Rodgers, Environmental Consultant, and member of Save Georgian Bay, said recently.
John Mikkelsen, TC Energy’s Director of Power Business Development, told Council in September of last year that the corporation has been listening to the concerns of area residents, and he said that changes have been made to the project design in response to those concerns, adding an extra $1 billion to the original estimate of $3.3 to construct the facility.
“Since we announced our intention to study the feasibility of the development of a pumped storage project at the Meaford Tank Range, there has been much discussion in this community. From our perspective this discussion is a constructive and essential component of project development,” Mikkelsen told Council on September 28, 2020. “It has raised awareness of the project, and it has also raised important concerns which need to be addressed. I assure you we are listening, and we are taking these concerns very seriously.”
Mikkelsen pointed to a number of design changes announced last summer as evidence that TC Energy is listening to the concerns expressed by residents, and two key changes have been incorporated into the new designs. TC Energy said that the powerhouse has been moved away from the shoreline and will be buried in a cavern. The water intake and outfall has been moved away from the shoreline into deep water, which TC Energy says will avoid sensitive near-shore fish habitat. Additionally, the proponent has committed to sub-sea transmission lines as opposed to overland transmission lines.
“We are grateful to the citizens of Meaford for their active involvement,” Mikkelsen told Council.
Mikkelsen said that the design changes made thus far have pushed the projected cost of the project from $3.3 billion to $4.3 billion.
Members of Save Georgian Bay see things differently, and they suggest that there are alternate technologies that could be explored.
“Alternative technologies are available that are 90% efficient and would not have a negative environmental impact on the Georgian Bay. Another design option for a PSP is a closed-loop plant, where a man-made lower reservoir is used instead of the Georgian Bay or open water,” said the organization.
The project is being marketed as a ‘green initiative’, with TC Energy claiming the facility will reduce CO2 emissions by 490,000 tonnes per year.
“The claim is misleading. If TC Energy built a natural gas plant, it would emit 500,000 tonnes per year of CO2. But if they build a PSP instead, it won’t emit as much CO2. Therefore, by building a PSP, TC Energy claims credit for a reduction in CO2 emissions simply because they decided not to build a natural gas plant,” added Rodgers.
More information about the OCAA proposal can be found at www.cleanairalliance.org.