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LETTER: TC Energy defends pumped storage project

In response to a previous letter writer, the proponent of the proposed storage facility addresses four points of criticism
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CollingwoodToday received the following letter from the proponents of the proposed Meaford pumped hydroelectric storage facility in response to this letter from Stephen Carr about the merits of the proposed facility. CollingwoodToday welcomes letters to the editor, which can be submitted to erika@collingwoodtoday.ca.

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Editor, 

I would like to thank Stephen Carr for his letter, published in the October 5 edition of your paper, and for his continued interest in our proposed pumped hydro storage project at Meaford. He raises a number of considerations that I would like to address and clarify.

1. Electricity exports to the United States:

Stephen states that Ontario’s surplus electricity is exported to neighbouring utilities that use a component of coal in their electricity generation processes. This is not entirely correct. New York closed its last coal plant this year and Michigan has committed to a phaseout of all its coal fleet by 2040. Further, a large part of Ontario’s surplus electricity is exported to Quebec, which has no coal-fired generation. By the time the pumped storage project is in service, much of the coal-fired facilities in surrounding jurisdictions will be retired, and significant levels of intermittent renewable generation is expected to be in its place.

As part of their analysis of the pumped storage project, independent consultants, Navigant, took into consideration electricity flows between these power grids, and they modelled future scenarios with and without the pumped storage facility. Navigant’s assessments determined that Ontario will no longer be capable of exporting its surplus baseload generation. Energy storage will only become even more valuable and more necessary.

2.Electricity transmission and project efficiency:

Over the last year, TC Energy has had many opportunities to engage with the community and has heard concerns surrounding environmental and visual impacts of an overland transmission line. As a result of the community feedback, we are proposing to advance a transmission route underwater on the lakebed of Georgian Bay from the project site to a location near Wasaga Beach, and underground from there to the transformer station.  

Stephen is right, all forms of energy storage have losses; but his numbers regarding the efficiency are unsubstantiated. The round-trip efficiency of pumped hydro storage is competitive against the lifecycle efficiency of other technologies. The 75% efficiency estimated for our pumped storage facility includes transmission losses associated with moving electricity to the project to pump the water, and losses when electricity is transmitted back to the Essa transformer station near Barrie. In the case of Ontario, we are storing electricity that would otherwise be wasted. As a result, we will be turning a 100 per cent loss into a 75 per cent gain – reducing the cost of electricity to consumers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

Regarding his assumption about the project requiring a 50-year commitment from Ontario Power Generation (OPG), we are not planning on contracting to OPG. Our commercial model for the project assumes a “cost of service” structure. This means that Ontario’s energy regulator sets the total amount that must be collected in rates to ensure that (a) the utility recovers its costs and earns a reasonable return on investment, and (b) maintains value for money for Ontario ratepayers. Details surrounding our project economics are presented in the Navigant report which is available at tcenergy.com/pumpedstorage

3. Construction material:

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the construction of the proposed project will be fully assessed as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process.  The results of the independent assessment by Navigant indicate that once the project is in operation, as noted above, it will reduce GHG emissions by an average 490,000 tonnes per year for the next 50 years. We expect emissions generated during construction to be offset by reductions in GHG emissions in the Ontario electricity system within one year of operation.

4. Alternative options, like batteries:

There are a number of technologies that can be used to store electricity – TC Energy is exploring many of them to assess where they can best be deployed. For example, batteries will play an important role in our future electricity system, and TC Energy is currently involved in battery storage projects in Canada.

With the planned closure of the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant in just a few years’ time, and the need to effectively balance Ontario’s vast renewable generation, large-volume/long-duration energy storage is needed. The cost and environmental footprint to meet this need using current battery technology would be significantly higher when considering the overall lifecycle impact of mining, manufacturing, installation, replacement and disposal associated with batteries.

We continue to believe that pumped storage is the most economic and environmentally responsible solution to meeting Ontario's bulk system energy storage needs – and for addressing climate change – for all the reasons outlined above.  We also continue to believe that this type of information exchange and dialogue is key to the ultimate success of this project, for TC Energy, the residents of Meaford, and for all Ontario energy ratepayers.

John Mikkelsen, P.Eng., M.A.Sc.
Director, Power Business Development
TC Energy

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