County councillors support waterpower, but not charter
By Sue Tiffin
At a May 22 meeting of county council, Stephanie Landers, manager, community relations and public outreach from the Ontario Waterpower Champions presented on the history and benefits of using waterpower to generate electricity before asking councillors to sign an Ontario Waterpower Champions Charter.
Ontario has 224 waterpower facilities that range in location, years in production and size, from 1kW backyard operations to facilities with thousands of MW capacity, such as at Niagara Falls. Sixteen per cent of hydro facilities are over a century old, Landers said. According to her presentation, the province’s electricity was generated through falling water until the 1950s when nuclear and coal energy, and more recently wind and solar energy, were introduced. Now 25 per cent of the province’s electricity comes from hydroelectric assets.
In a survey conducted through a third party researcher, Landers presented that 92 per cent of respondents from a variety of regions strongly supported waterpower-generated electricity.
In Haliburton County, she said three facilities are community assets: Drag Lake Dam, built in 1925, owned by Algonquin Power and generating 0.3 MW; Minden Dam, built in 1934, owned by Orillia Power, generating 4.4 MW; and Devil’s Gap, built in 1979, owned by Irondale River Waterpower Inc., generating 0.5 MW.
“What we’re noting is a change in political landscape, the movement is moving away from provincial decision-making on electricity and we anticipate towards local planning and decision-making,” said Landers, noting that eventually in the long-term there will be opportunity to develop waterpower in the area that she hoped councillors would consider as an option.
“Additionally, there’s quite a few opportunities that exist right now in terms of aging infrastructure,” she said. “There are 2,000 dams currently in Ontario that do not provide waterpower or hydroelectricity, so what’s interesting about that is there’s many dams that also need upgrading, and there’s opportunity to add electricity to the system. Additionally what’s been happening for many years now is when a facility starts to age, an actual hydroelectric facility, you can update it to increase its efficiency with more energy-efficient turbines, fish-friendly turbines, so that’s an opportunity as well.”
Landers said waterpower provided economic opportunity, affordability, and sustainability within communities.
“As soon as 2024, we will need more electricity with the refurbishments of nuclear power, and eventually there will be the electrification of the economy and we will need more electricity at that point in time, too,” she said.
The charter as presented states it “is a framework for council to demonstrate its commitment to integrating and balancing its socio-cultural, economic and environmental goals,” committing to “support the use and expansion of local waterpower; support historical infrastructure and refurbishment opportunities; conserve and enhance our man-made and natural environment; value the voices – all of the voices – of our community; and work with others collaboratively to create opportunities.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin asked where this initiative was in 2015.
“We’ve had pretty well five years of replacement of infrastructure in the reservoir lakes in the Trent-Severn, and certainly there was a missed opportunity – and I’m a huge support of water-based power – at Horseshoe Lake Dam.”
He questioned if there was collaboration between Ontario Waterpower Champions and the TSW as their dam replacements are underway.
Landers said they have developed a relationship with Parks Canada and there were some pilot projects being developed on the TSW but the contracts weren’t far enough along to move forward when the provincial government cancelled them amongst 758 renewable energy contracts last July. She agreed there was opportunity and said they were “constantly trying to collaborate.”
Warden Liz Danielsen asked if, alongside decision-making, financing of projects would be likely to move to the local level.
Landers said there would be different options, including the potential for communities to become partners of a facility, receiving money over a long-term advantage as it feeds into the grid.
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Patrick Kennedy asked if the OWC advocated for non-members, like a facility in Haliburton that hadn’t been mentioned in the presentation.
Landers said non-members would likely benefit from the group’s advocacy.
“Trust me, I’m happy to see this now,” Devolin added. “It’s just that by the time this has [tracked through and] decisions made at the local level, within Haliburton County pretty well all of those assets will have been renewed, so we’ll be mainly or substantially done so it’s unfortunate, I’d loved to have seen you five years ago, here.”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said that like the other councillors around the table she was in support of waterpower, but said she didn’t see the point of signing the charter given that “we don’t run dams, we don’t own any,” and that the language in the charter made her nervous.
“I’m a little concerned with the language in the charter, because words aren’t just words,” she said. “I would like to better understand the implications of that language, given the current landscape.”
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts questioned what the benefit of signing the charter would be to the county’s residents.
Council opted to receive the report but not sign the charter at this time.