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TBM councillors skeptical about pumped storage plan

Councillors raise concerns about environmental, visual and community impacts of project
TC Energy Externa Engagement Team Lead Herb Shields makes a presentation to The Blue Mountains council on Dec. 12.

Members of The Blue Mountains have expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of a proposed pumped storage energy facility that may be built on the military base property in Meaford.

Herb Shields, external engagement team lead, for TC Energy was a delegation at The Blue Mountains council meeting on Dec. 12. Shields updated council about the status of the proposed project in Meaford and redesign efforts the company has made based on public feedback. The presentation from Shields can be read here.

The company is proposing a large-scale energy storage facility on lands in Meaford used by the Department of National Defence as a military training centre. Their proposal would construct a reservoir at the base that would be 30 metres deep and cover about 375 acres. Water would be pumped up from Georgian Bay,  using electricity from the grid during off-peak hours, through 20 different intake/outflow pipes that stick out above the lakebed from tunnels buried under the lakebed. The water would be released and, using gravity, would flow back to the bay, generating electricity during peak demand times through the process of the water flowing back into the bay. Potentially, the reservoir could be filled and emptied every day using water from Lake Huron.

The proposal includes an underwater transmission line to property in Wasaga Beach. A further underground transmission line would be needed from Wasaga Beach to a transformer station in Stayner.

The proposal is currently in the mandatory environmental impact assessment process, which is expected to last for a minimum of three years. If approved, construction would begin in 2025 and go until 2029.

After the presentation, members of council expressed concerns about the proposal’s impact on the local environment. However, time limits prevented a more extensive back-and-forth question-and-answer session.

Coun. Paula Hope said the local area relies on agriculture and tourism to drive the economy.

“Any change from a visual impact is so significant to our economy,” she said, and asked Shields for examples of similar existing facilities the community could compare to what TC Energy is proposing. “What do you have to compare to give us reassurance that this is not going to be a disaster for the Town of The Blue Mountains?”

Shields said the company is willing to work with the town on mitigating any concerns.

“That’s why we’re here. We’re more than happy to work with Town of The Blue Mountains staff on impacts and issues,” he said.

“I didn’t get an answer to my question,” was Hope’s reply.

Coun. Shawn McKinlay said he had concerns about local beaches and waterfront areas being negatively impacted by the proposal. McKinlay said he is worried that silt in Georgian Bay will be stirred up by the activities of the proposed pumped storage operation.

“What guarantee is there that it won’t rile up silt that will come down our coastline. I’m curious how that will possibly be mitigated,” said McKinlay.

In response, Shields said TC Energy is conducting extensive computer modelling along with water monitoring and sampling of the local area. He said the current design would see water returned to the bay at a flow of 1 km per hour, which is similar to current flows in the area. He also said the risers that pull in the water are elevated and not on the lake bed.

“These kinds of impacts can be avoided,” he said.

Coun. June Porter noted that under the Dominion Water Power Act, the project is exempt from paying property taxes. Porter said she understands TC Energy is negotiating with the Municipality of Meaford on a possible payment in lieu of taxes. Porter asked if the company would do the same for Grey County, which will see its roads and infrastructure impacted.

Shields confirmed the company is in voluntary negotiations with Meaford on the concept and said municipal infrastructure and servicing needs would be major considerations during the discussions and he said similar conversations would happen with the county.

“We are going to be having discussions with Grey County on road and infrastructure impacts,” he said.

After the presentation, council passed a resolution accepting the information from the delegation and requesting a staff report about the project early in 2023.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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