Portlands Energy Centre
For the last few years, Ontario Power Generation and TransCanada Pipelines have been planning the Portlands Energy Centre (PEC), a 550 MW natural gas electricity generating station proposed for Toronto's waterfront.
Originally billed as a cogeneration plant (that efficiently uses the waste heat from electricity generation for heating buildings or industrial processes), and promoted as something that "could be" consistent with plans for our Waterfront Revitalization, a number of issues have come about the proponents plans, as also to their methods of getting the project approved.
Any plans to build large polluting infrastructure in Ontario is still subject to some form of Environmental Review. Mike Harris dramatically weakened the law so that Full Environmental Assessments are rarely done, but they can and should still happen.
Most people with concern for the health of our ecology recognize that the gutting of the safeguards for health in Ontario by the previous government were irresponsible and dangerous. In fact, the Liberals have initiated a process to review the current Environmental Assessment Legislation in order to reverse some changes.
The proponents of the Portlands Energy Centre filed their Environmental Review after the Liberals had taken power. They took this step after the community made it very clear that they were not interested in seeing the project move forward as planned.
During the numerous public meetings, the proponents made no effort to reach out to new people in the community, and rarely updated their web site. They had fulfilled their obligation to run an ad in the local paper as the only public notification that they had to put out. They left the task of spreading the word to citizens and community groups who were concerned about the project.
During this time, Greg Bonser collected over 1000 names on a petition asking that the PEC be subject to a Full Environmental Assessment. A poll attached to the petition found that the vast majorities of signatories had heard nothing about the plans before they had seen the petition.
A handful of public consultation meetings of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) took place. One of the key promises made by politicians while setting up the TWRC was that it would have control over the lands recognized as the central waterfront and that it would be free to plan how to develop them. An equally important promise was that the TWRC would oversee all environmental assessments and ensure that public consultations were coordinated.
This did not occur with respect to the Portlands Energy Centre. Perhaps it was the inclusion of OPG chair Bill Farlinger on the board of the TWRC (a conflict of interest and possible illegal act under Ontario's incorporation laws) that led to this lack of oversight.
The project is currently under examination by the Minister of the Environment Leona Dombrowsky who is expected to make a decision by September 30, 2004. Her choice is to listen to the many community members who have called for a Full Environmental Assessment of this project, or to listen to the proponents who have built a case to move forward on broken promises and ill will.
Points to Consider
- This project is proceeding under the inadequate Mike Harris version of an environmental screen. The Liberals are currently reviewing this legislation to make improvements. Since the project has undergone an inadequate version of an EA, most local residents do not know of the project and have not been able to give comments.
- The vast majority of over 1000 local residents who were signatories to a petition did not know anything about the project. When their names were submitted on their behalf to the Ministry requesting a full EA, their names were disregarded and none of them were sent any additional information.
- Mayor David Miller, Jack Layton, MPP Marilyn Churley and Local Councilor Paula Fletcher have all called for a full EA
- There is an inherent risk in setting up an imbalanced marketplace by allowing the near monopoly OPG to work with the company that owns the only natural gas pipeline coming into Ontario in building an electrical generating station. As gas infrastructure reaches maximum loads, private companies will have to make the decision about who gets the gas shut off first.
- Current energy minister Dwight Duncan has said publicly "we are running out of natural gas". This is similar to comments by previous government minister Steve Gilchrist who said that the TransCanada pipeline is 95% full. Yet, the mad push to relying increasingly on natural gas continues. This raises concerns about the coming natural gas shortages.
- The ecological impacts will be staggering. Original documents indicated that this would be an efficient co-generation plant (producing electricity and reusing the excess heat). This is no longer the case. As a result air pollution levels will be higher (as high as about 230,000 in terms of CO2 and between 7,000 - 10,000 in terms of smog production) water pollution will also occur (raising the temperature of Cherry Beach by over 5 degrees, drastically altering the habitat and water quality at one of Toronto's only clean beaches).
- The process for the PEC has undermined any meaningful opportunity to implement the "sustainable integrated energy strategy" as promised as part of the Waterfront Revitalization Corporation.