Orillia Power project rejected
By Chad Ingram
A proposal for an Orillia Power generation station near the Minden Wild Water Preserve is dead in the water after a unanimous vote against the project by Minden Hills councillors on Aug. 27.
Back in June, reps from Orillia Power, which owns and operates the existing power generation facility at Minden Lake, approached council about building a second generation station on property it owns along the Gull River.
This second facility, which, at 3.5-megawatts would have powered about 1,500 homes, would have harnessed the power of Horseshoe Lake dam and been built near the Minden Wild Water Preserve.
Reps were looking for a support resolution, as well as an agreement to sell municipally owned shoreline road allowances required for the project, from council.
At a public open house hosted by Orillia Power on July 16, Minden Hills residents expressed concern over impacted water flow and its effects for kayakers and other users of the whitewater preserve, fish and wildlife, as well the disruption of the environment.
The proposed facility would have required the construction of large pen stock along the shoreline.
Those concerns were reiterated by township residents Jim and Bernie Davis at Thursday’s meeting, as they implored councillors to vote against the proposal.
Earlier this week, the Davises started a Facebook page called Save Minden White Water Rapids, which has garnered nearly 700 “likes” in the few days it’s existed and been flooded with comments from community members opposing the project.
“Are you the council who is on the watch to make Minden Hills special?” Bernie asked councillors. “Isn’t the haste of the given timelines disrespectful to all of us?”
Orillia Power was working toward a Sept. 1 deadline for an application for provincial funding and the Davises said that council wasn’t being given enough time for consideration, nor had sufficient information as to the true scope of the project been circulated among citizens.
“It’s ours to keep, but yours to squander,” Bernie said. “This feels to us like robbery, with inside help. It’s too soon to say yes.”
Attendees in a standing-room-only council chambers applauded.
The project would have also required the co-operation of Whitewater Ontario, whose board earlier this week voted in favour of continuing conversations with Orillia Power.
However, that motion was contingent upon support from Minden Hills council, as was the entire application, since it required the acquisition of shoreline road allowances owned by the township.
When it came time for councillors to make their decision, it became quickly apparent which way the vote was going to go.
“I cannot in good conscience support the Orillia Power proposal at several levels,” said Councillor Jeanne Anthon. “I believe the provincial government process through the IESO [Independent Electricity System Operator] is flawed and irresponsible in offering unrealistic financial incentives to companies and households to install renewable energy household projects; unrealistic in that payback is pie-in-the-sky in my view.”
Anthon said the province should go back to the drawing board and produce a program that is more comprehensive and sensible.
“I certainly looked at the potential revenue and the municipality would welcome any additional revenues,” she said. “But then I visited the site, and understanding that Orillia Power would have to dig and blast for a 12-metre diameter pipe is mind-boggling to me, and it becomes clear there will be massive disturbance at this most scenic and valued site.”
“You did say very much what a lot of us around this table are thinking,” said Councillor Lisa Schell. “I also tried to see both sides of it. In the nine years, also, though, that I’ve sat at this table, I have never seen as many emails or phone calls regarding one item as I did for this. In 2006, when I first ran for election, my promise was my voice at this table would be what constituents wanted, not what Lisa Schell wanted.”
One by one, councillors, many citing their conscience, said they’d be voting against the resolution.
“I know there’s been a request for a recorded vote, but I guess I’m going to make this unanimous,” said Reeve Brent Devolin. “It’s a valuable asset in our community for a lot of people. I’m interested in the long-term benefit of all the stakeholders in our community.”
The reeve stressed Orillia Power has been present in Minden for a long time and Anthon, former reeve of the former Anson, Hindon and Minden, had said the corporation had always been good to work with.
“I think the timeframe, the constraints and the deadline have weighed on me heavily,” Devolin said, adding he was a promoter of water-based power and other renewable sources of energy, and that conversations about alternative projects at the site may take place in the future. “But we can’t do that in the timeframe that we have been delivered. Like I said, unanimously, it’s no from us.”
Reps from Orillia Power were in council chambers for the vote.