Sunday, June 16, 2024

Pumped Storage Proposal Update Provided to Council

During their October 30 meeting, Meaford’s council was provided with an update on municipal activities related to the pumped storage plant proposed to be constructed by TC Energy on the grounds of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in Meaford.

In July of this year, council approved the appointment of two consulting firms, StrategyCorp, and Ainley Group, to assist council and the municipality in moving through the process.

StrategyCorp were engaged to work on the development and negotiation of a community benefit agreement with TCE, while Ainley Group were awarded project coordinator services,” noted the report to council on Monday. “Since that time, staff have had initial conversations with both organizations, in an effort to ensure that the municipal work related to this project move forward smoothly. This report discusses proposed changes to the Municipality’s approach, and provides an update on other actions that have been taken in the third quarter of 2023. Staff intend to provide Council with a quarterly update on the TCE Pumped Storage project, generally at the first meeting of each quarter, along with additional information as required.”

The 29-page report outlined recent actions taken by the municipality, and it offered five recommendations for council to consider at Monday’s meeting.

In the third quarter of 2023, staff have worked with municipal partners to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the processes that the Municipality will have to undertake related to the Ontario Pumped Storage project,” the staff report to council noted.

Among a number of actions taken in recent months, the municipality’s senior management team has met with both StrategyCorp and Ainley Group to discuss their roles in the project, and to develop work plans for community benefit negotiations as well as technical review of the proposed project.

The report to council notes that as was decided by council in July, “StrategyCorp have been engaged to assist the Municipality in negotiating a community benefit agreement. This work is focused on helping the Municipality achieve the highest possible benefit to the community. Secondly, Ainley Group will be responsible for providing technical ‘peer review’ of studies provided to the Municipality by TC Energy as part of the Impact and Environmental Assessment processes.”

Staff expressed concern to council that there is an important gap between the approved activities of both consulting firms, and they proposed an enhanced project management role be assigned to Ainley Group.

Staff believe that this approach leaves a significant gap in between the two elements,” noted the report to council. “The current plan will not, in staff’s opinion, adequately represent the community’s concerns, and is not proactive enough to ensure that any long term project impacts to the community are as limited as possible. As a result, staff are proposing an amended municipal approach to the project, including the appointment of Ainley Group to an ‘enhanced’ project management role. As with the previous contracts, the expectation is that the work would be paid for by TC Energy as part of their commitment to fund all costs reasonably incurred by the Municipality in relation to the Ontario Pumped Storage project.”

Though the consultation services discussed at council during Monday’s meeting are estimated to cost more than $3.5 million, council was reminded that those costs are to be reimbursed to the municipality by TC Energy.

The expectation that costs incurred by the Municipality related to the Ontario Pumped Storage project will be borne by TC Energy remains in place,” the staff report noted.

Mayor Ross Kentner and municipal Clerk/Acting CAO Matt Smith visited the Municipality of South Bruce to discuss their experiences with the ongoing site selection process related to the Deep Geological Repository to store nuclear waste.

Mayor Goetz and Ms. Martin were very generous with their time, and provided valuable insight into their process for engagement with their community regarding the proposed Deep Geological Repository, and about their engagement and agreement with NWMO for capacity and community funding during the site selection process,” noted the report.

The acting CAO has also met with representatives from TC Energy to discuss the next steps with the proposed project, and he has also had meetings with representatives of local advocacy groups, Save Georgian Bay and the Impact Zone Group, a newly formed group of residents who live in what has been termed the ‘impact zone’, to discuss their concerns with the proposed project as well as the municipality’s approach as the process moves forward.

Additionally, the report notes that StrategyCorp have begun their initial research on community benefit agreements, with particular emphasis on energy projects.

They have termed this research an “environmental scan”, which will result in a report that can be presented to Council to provide more information on these agreements,” the report to council advised.

Staff’s report to council placed an emphasis on the need for extensive community consultation as the process moves forward, including a recommendation for the formation of a community steering committee.

Included in the proposal is a recommendation that the Municipality form a “Community Steering Committee” (final name to be determined), a proposal that staff fully support. The committee would be designed to include a cross-section of people from across the community, including representatives of organizations such as Save Georgian Bay, people who own property close to the proposed project, representatives from stakeholders such as the Meaford Chamber of Commerce, as well as other members with a variety of backgrounds and opinions on the project,” staff advised council. “The committee’s primary roles would be to provide a transparent forum for public discussion, provide input to Council, staff and consultants about key issues for the community, and to be a forum to learn more about the potential impacts of the project from subject matter experts. The proposal further suggests that some committee members could join members of Council and staff on visits to other pumped storage facilities or to relevant conferences.”

Public opposition to the proposed project has been significant since it was first announced four years ago. Local advocacy group Save Georgian Bay was quickly formed, and has been raising awareness and expressing opposition to the proposal to all levels of government.

In September of this year, Save Georgian Bay issued a press release expressing concern for endangered species that can be found on the military base property.

Over 30 endangered species will be threatened by TC Energy’s Pumped Storage Project on Georgian Bay. The consequences for the environment will be drastic and damaging for generations to come,” Save Georgian Bay advised in the media release.

The material that we have reviewed so far is profoundly disturbing for anyone who cares about the environment,” said Tom Buck, a director of Save Georgian Bay (SGB), a group of concerned residents that obtained the information through a Freedom of Information request. “In April, Canada hosted COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference. Now, we seem willing to put 30 species at risk to build outdated technology. That is illogical and dangerous!”

Save Georgian Bay said that the Canadian Forces Base in Meaford “is home to 30 species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), including birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and plants. In addition, the project’s giant turbines that will use the waters of Georgian Bay would have adverse effects on fish and fish habitat. DND concluded that ‘large numbers of species at risk as well as their habitat will be impacted, including an old growth woodlot’.” Save Georgian Bay argues that “some of the project’s consequences will be irreversible and endanger Canada’s efforts to slow down climate change. The Agreement between TC Energy and the DND leaves the responsibility for environmental assessment with TC Energy, despite the fact that the dedicated land, according to the documents, contains contaminated soils, including a ‘legacy asbestos dump’, that requires mitigation to prevent air and water contamination during construction.”

After significant discussion of the quarterly update report, council approved the five recommendations included in the report as follow:

1. Authorize the execution of an agreement with Ainley Group to perform an enhanced project management role for the Ontario Pumped Storage project;

2. Direct staff to draft a Terms of Reference for a Community Steering Committee for Council’s consideration;

3. Direct staff to establish an internal working group consisting of the mayor, deputy mayor, (Interim) CAO, Director of Engineering, and Director of Development Services, plus a County of Grey representative and any other staff deemed necessary by the CAO to lead the Municipality’s work on this project;

4. Direct staff to work with representatives from Ainley Group, StrategyCorp, and TCE to develop a comprehensive project plan, clearly identifying roles and responsibilities; and

5. Authorize the recruitment of a Project Administrator (Pumped Storage) municipal staff position, on a contract basis, to coordinate the proposed Community Steering Committee and support the CAO in relation to the Ontario Pumped Storage project.

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