Tag Archives: hydro


Ontario Rivers are Under Assault

Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA) is a Not-for-Profit grassroots organization with a focus on healthy river ecosystems all across Ontario. ORA members represent numerous organizations such as the Vermilion River Stewardship, French River Delta Association, CPAWS-Ottawa Valley, Whitewater Ontario, Mississippi Riverwatchers, along with many other stewardships, associations, and private and First Nations citizens, who have come together to ensure the rash of waterpower proposals currently going through the approvals process are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

We all want Green Energy, but let’s ensure it is truly Green, and not the “Green-washed” version that is being proposed for many Ontario rivers.  Let’s ensure that efficiencies and upgrades are made to existing hydroelectric dams before new ones are built. Let’s ensure fish passage and fish friendly turbines are installed.

Climate change is upon us, and WATER is quickly becoming our gravest concern.  Let’s ensure river developments take into account the best advice of climate scientists, and are sustainable for many years to come.

So What’s the Dam Problem?

Ontario rivers are being placed at risk by a rash of over 45 hydroelectric proposals that have been awarded FIT Contracts, and are moving through the permitting and approvals process. The Green Energy Act with its accompanying FIT Program is the only thing that has made many of these rivers feasible for waterpower development. The proponent can’t be told to stand down, and gets paid a 50% bonus for whatever power they can generate – with a 50% bonus to produce power during peak demand. This encourages developers to maximize power at the expense of the environment and public health and safety.

Ontario Rivers are in trouble because our government has put the developer in charge of the Environmental Assessment process, instead of the MOE and MNR, and there is no possibility of a “no outcome” – effectively placing the FOX in charge of the chicken coop!

Hydroelectric is not “Green” when river flow is held back in head ponds – it is in fact “Dirty Energy”.

1.    Bad for the River Ecosystem:

Dams that hold water back in headponds result in:

  • Degraded water quality
  • Lower downstream water levels and flows
  • Lower oxygen levels
  • Increased mercury in fish tissue – studies show a 10 to 20 times increase
  • Increased nitrate and phosphorus levels
  • Warming of water – sound like a recipe for more algae?
2.   Bad for Fishermen & Snowmobilers:
  • Turbines chop up and kill Fish and Eels
  • Fish migration for spawning is blocked
  • Prime Spawning areas are destroyed
  • Entire species of fish are threatened
  • Rapid rise and fall of river water levels on daily basis makes ice unsafe for ice fishermen & snowmobilers
3.   Bad for Our Health & Safety:
  • Increased mercury in fish tissue resulting in fish consumption restrictions
  • Conditions created by dams & their headponds can result in increased incidences of toxic blue-green algae
  • Many people rely on river water for their drinking water and daily household needs
  • Dams can fail from extreme weather events and flooding
  • Rapidly changing water levels and flow velocity can put fishermen, swimmers and boaters at risk
4.   Bad for the Community & Local Economy:

Ontario Rivers offer  a thriving eco-tourism opportunity for small businesses:

  • Prime fishing and tourist viewing areas are destroyed
  • Decline in fish populations, especially cold-water species
  • Habitat destroyed
  • Pristine and unique features are replaced with a concrete dam, chain link fence and warning sirens
  • Rivers with cycling or peaking hydroelectric dams make boating, swimming, fishing, and ice recreation unsafe within zone of influence
  • Tourists will not travel hundreds of miles to see where rapids, waterfalls and fish used to be

We invite you to join us in our mission.

“Our future generations are depending on us.”


So What’s the Dam Problem

Well there are several problems, but we may as well start with the root of the problem, and that is a provincial government bent on building its reputation as a Green Energy leader, and attracting big business into this Province to exploit  its resources and sell off Crown land to private companies. Democracy for the people and protecting our environment and natural resources isn’t high on their list of priorities.  “Ontario is open for business.”

Currently there are 86 hydroelectric dam proposals going through the approvals process in the Province of Ontario, and the 2005 Hatch Acres Report lists about 600 potential sites.  Many of these dams are slated for “modified peaking”, a method of holding water back for up to 48 hours in head ponds, for release during peak demand hours.  So that leads us to the next on our list of problems…. Continue reading


Dam Types

Run-of-River

True Run-of-River

Waterpower Structures – Definitions

A major challenge is that many of the new proposed dams in Ontario are being sold to the public as Run-of-River, when in fact they are “modified run-of-river”, or using a “cycling” strategy where head ponds are necessary.  Definitions and terminology continue to evolve and change as negative impacts are attached to them, and this has become a real problem.  This government has not created a standard of reference, so in our search to find an authoritative definition for run-of-river, we have settled on a national standard.

Run-of-River

Most people when they hear the term “run-of-river”  for hydroelectric generation, have a picture in their mind of a hydro plant that uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, with no water storage, or manipulation of flow, so that power generation fluctuates with the stream flow.   This is in fact how Natural Resources Canada defines run-of-river in their textbook, CLEAN ENERGY PROJECT ANALYSIS: RETSCREEN® ENGINEERING & CASES TEXTBOOK, SMALL HYDRO PROJECT ANALYSIS CHAPTER:

“Run-of-river developments:  “Run-of-river” refers to a mode of operation in which the hydro plant uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, as depicted in Figure 6. “Run-of-river” implies that there is no water storage and that power fluctuates with the stream flow.” Continue reading


Pimicikamak Okimawin opposed to Northern Manitoba dams

Excerpt – Read full article here.

 - Ivan Moose of Fox Lake Cree Nation speaks in front of a Pimicikamak flag outside the Mystery Lake Hotel in Thompson May during a protest against Manitoba Hydro’s dam development plans organized by Pimicikamak Okimawin while the Public Utilities Board was hearing from presenters inside as part of the Needs For and Alternatives To Review (NFAT) of ?the Crown corporation’s preferred development plan. - Nickel Belt News photo by Ian Graham

Members of Pimicikamak Okimawin – the traditional government of Pimicikamak, an indigenous nation that includes but is not equivalent to Cross Lake First Nation – and other Northern Manitoba communities affected by flooding from the building of Manitoba Hydro dams in the past gathered at the Mystery Lake Hotel in Thompson, which is owned by Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation, on May to voice their opposition to further dam-building while the Public Utilities Board was hearing presentations from the public inside as part of the Needs For and Alternatives To Review (NFAT) of the Crown corporation’s preferred development plan.

“Hydro talks about partnerships with First Nations,” said a printed copy of remarks made by Pimicikamak vice-chief Shirley Robinson, who spoke at the gathering. “But its northern partners only make up about one-third of hydro-affected Aboriginal people in the north. For two thirds of us – in Cross Lake, South Indian Lake, Norway House, Grand Rapids, Easterville and Moose Lake – this so-called new era is just the same as the old era. It is an era of disrespect.”

“Our people have said no more dams, our elders have spoken, our women have spoken,” said David Lee Roy Muswaggon, a member of Pimicikamak’s executive council, which along with the women’s council, elders’ council and youth council make up the First Nation’s traditional government structure. “They said no more dams because in the Northern Flood agreement they said, they promised to assess the cumulative effects of existing dams today. We can’t keep building dams without knowing what damage has been done to the current river and lake system for people that do not hunt, fish or trap. Thousands of miles have been eroded. The ecosystem has been destroyed and decimated. Spawning grounds, everything. Our fish are no longer healthy. Our animals are no longer healthy. People need to understand that hydro is not clean and green.” Continue reading



Hydroelectric Generation in Ontario – OPA Definitions

Serpent River – Run-of-River

A major challenge with hydroelectric in Ontario is that there are no consistent definitions.  Many hydroelectric facilities are referred to as Run-of-River when they are in fact cycling or peaking facilities.  Below are some good definitions which should be incorporated by government in their policy and legislation.   Just keep in mind that because they call it run-of-river it doesn’t mean it is – it is most likely a Peaking plant described under “Storage” here.  Peaking facilities using headponds (pondage) allow for power generation and profits to be maximized; however, the environmental and health and safety impacts can be severe:

3.6 Hydroelectric Generation in Ontario

3.6.3.2 Classes of Hydroelectric Generating Stations

Hydroelectric installations can be classified into three basic types.  These are:

  • Storage or Pondage plants (sometimes known as “peaking” plants)
  • Run-of-the-River plants
  • Pumped Storage plants

Some of the characteristics of these types are discussed below.

Storage or Pondage (Peaking) Plants:  At many hydroelectric plants, production economics can be enhanced by storing water in the head pond (forebay) for a limited number of hours.  This is normally done by partially or completely shutting the plant down (i.e., stopping the water flow) overnight or on weekends, when the demand for electricity is light.  The stored water is used during the peak load period of the following day.  This type of operation is called peaking and is carried out routinely on most large power systems.

Peaking power installations are characterized by proportionally large units (in terms of discharge capability) and relatively small forebays (storage capability).  They an only sustain continuous generation for a few hours a day before they start running out of water and need additional inflow from upstream reservoirs.  Forebays of peaking installations must have large operating ranges, which has impacts on the use and environment of the shoreline of the reservoir.  As well, the environment downstream of the plant must be protected against wide fluctuations in discharge flow.

Run-of-the-River Plants:  Some plants are not suited to peaking operations because they do not have adequate forebay storage capacity and/or their discharge capacity must match the streamflow of the river they are on.  Some examples are plants located on a waterway where shipping interests and other considerations impose restrictions on such peaking operation and where the river flow must be passed on downstream in a more uniform manner.

Run-of-the-river installations are usually low-head and their operation, which is often classified as base load, does not follow the economics of supplying the load, but rather the variations of the river flow over time.  Water management at this type of installation is often based on established “rule curves”.

Pumped Storage Plants:  A Pumped storage generating station (PGS) represents a logical complement to load-following operations that are carried out elsewhere on a power system.  A PGS time-shifts energy production by storing energy in the form of water.  At night when demand and the cost for power are low, water is diverted from a lower river or lake and is pumped up into a storage reservoir with electric motors.  The water is let back down from that reservoir through a set of turbo-generators when the energy is ready to be sold (and used) during periods of high value or need.

Electricity used for the pumping operation is obtained from the system during periods of low demand.  This carries an economic penalty in that it takes about 30% more energy to pump the water uphill to the reservoir than can be generated when the time comes to let it back down through the turbines.  In addition, there is uncontrolled consumption of that water while it is in the reservoir, through evaporation.

PGS plants are not new.  These generating stations are used extensively to time-shift energy production on a daily or weekly basis – away from weekends and into high demand weekday peak hours.  One example is the PGS at OPG’s Sir Adam Beck complex at Niagara Falls.  Another is at the Robert Moses installation across the river in Lewiston, NY.  One of the world’s largest PGS installations is located at Ludington, Michigan, relatively close to the Ontario-Michigan border.[1]



[1] Hydroelectric Generation in Ontario, OPA, Supply Mix Advice, P82-83, Sec. 3.6.3.2 Classes of Hydroelectric Generating Stations, OPA


Marter Township Generating Station Environmental Report – Blanche River – Part II Order Request

Krugerdorf Chutes, Blanche River

This proposal has a Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) contract which pays a 50% peaking bonus for all power generated.  FIT Contracts have a 40 year term.   Projects with FIT contracts cannot be told to stop generating if Ontario has a surplus of power – they get paid for all power generated whether it is required or not.  Proposed to produce 2.1 MW Installed Capacity, which with seasonal flows will more realistically produce 50% of that – approximately 1 MW of power.

ORA has made a Part II Order request to the Minister of Environment to elevate this proposal to an Individual Environmental Assessment – a much more rigorous environmental assessment.  Awaiting MOE response.

Published: 14 March 2014

Excerpt:

“It is ORA’s submission that Xeneca’s approach falls far short of their claims in many key aspects of this ER, and does its best to sell the reader on the project, with an approach of convincing the reader to just trust them, let them build it, and then through monitoring and adaptive management during pre and post construction the riverine ecosystem will be just fine. This approach is not acceptable.”  Read more below:

Download (PDF, 593KB)


Proposed Hydroelectric Generating Station at the Bala Falls

Bala Falls Portage

Posted 8 March 2014

There is a lot at stake in a battle that has gone on for close to a decade.  Through a “Competitive Site Release” in 2004 the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) made some Crown land available south of the Bala north falls for the development of a hydro-electric generating station (Bala is north-west of Gravenhurst). The MNR is very motivated to see this happen, as not only would it help fulfill the province’s mandate for additional power generation from renewable energy sources, but MNR staff would also no longer need to adjust stop-logs to regulate water flows and levels, or be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the Bala north and south dams – instead, the proponent would have these responsibilities. Unfortunately, the MNR appears to be so motivated that they have shown little concern for the many negative impacts on fish spawning and other habitat problems that would be created.

In 2005 a proponent was awarded “Applicant of Record” status, and since then has proposed at least three different configurations, all of which would also create major public safety and economic problems.

SaveTheBalaFalls.com, the local cottager association, and the public have therefore been actively engaged both in the process and also in ensuring the appropriate government Ministries, agencies, and politicians are presented with the many outstanding concerns and issues.

One major issue is that the Bala Falls landscape is central to Bala and the surrounding area’s recreation and tourism economy as the falls are very visible and accessible, and are the main focus of visits – including literally bus-loads of tourists in the summer. They come to view the falls, to climb on the rocks, and to play in the usually serene water at the base of the falls. There are also residences within 200 feet, as well as long-time and very popular public in-water recreation that occurs within 50 feet, both upstream and downstream of the proposed generating station and the treacherously turbulent water it would create.

Another major issue is that the proposed project would obstruct a traditional and historic Portage, which is still in use. As a result of a request by the MNR, written historical proof was provided to confirm that this Portage was in use prior to the initial Crown land patent, and Section 65(4) of the Public Lands Act prohibits such obstruction. In May 2013 the MNR unilaterally declared that this land was suddenly too dangerous for the public to access – even though their own 2011 Public Safety Measures Plan for this exact area had no such concerns. We have responded with reasons why this proposed project would still be illegal under the Public Lands Act, and await a response on this complicated topic.

Two years ago, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) told us that in the ten years the current legislation has been in place, there have been more than 50 requests to elevate different proposed hydro-electric generation proposals to an Individual Environmental Assessment. Such further study is the required first step to having any chance of an Environmental Assessment (EA) approval being denied. But the MOE has denied EVERY ONE of these 50 requests. That is, there has never been a “Part II Order” request for elevation approved. This places the fairness and efficacy of the entire EA process in question.

The current situation for the proposed Bala project is that not only are major approvals still required from all four levels of government, but there are legal challenges as well.

And SaveTheBalaFalls.com and the community will continue to ask; would it be safe, would it be beautiful, and would there be enough water over the falls to continue to draw people to Bala. We still don’t have answers, so we continue to ensure decision-makers know the problems.

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Namakan River Hydroelectric Proposal Threatens the Quetico-Superior Wilderness and its Species at Risk

Posted 8 March 2014

A proposed hydro-electric development at High Falls on the Namakan River poses a serious threat to the only remaining large free-flowing river in the Quetico-Superior wilderness area of northwestern Ontario and a critical ecological corridor linking three large wilderness parks, Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario and Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Wilderness in adjacent Minnesota.

Because of its large size and free-flowing nature, the Namakan is home to a thriving population of Lake Sturgeon, a designated threatened species in Northwestern Ontario. Detailed scientific studies have documented the migration of Lake Sturgeon up and down the river between Voyageurs National Park and Quetico. Hydro dams are known to cause drastic declines in this species. Hence, hydro-electric development of the Namakan is considered a grave threat to this species.

The Namakan is also the only known location of the Pygmy Snaketail dragonfly in Ontario. As a result, the Pygmy Snaketail was recently designated as an endangered species in the province. Studies have shown that the habitat of the Pygmy Snaketail is also at great risk from hydro development.

The river forms a key link in the network of historical wilderness canoe routes of the Quetico-Superior region. It has been utilized by First Nations for millennia, by the Voyageurs as part of the fur trade route across the continent and by recreational paddlers over the past century. High Falls, the site of the proposed generating station and dam, is the most spectacular of the rivers falls and rapids.

Numerous environmental organizations and scientists in both Canada and the United States have expressed alarm at the proposal for hydro development at High Falls on the Namakan, because of serious negative implications for the Quetico-Superior wilderness, the ecological integrity of the three large parks, species at risk such as the threatened Lake Sturgeon and endangered Pygmy Snaketail dragonfly, and the wilderness canoe route network.

The original proposal for this development was put forward by Ojibway Power and Energy Group, a partnership of Chant Construction and Lac La Croix First Nation, in order to help resolve long-standing economic difficulties faced by the community. The proposal reached the draft Environmental Report stage in 2010. The draft Report received widespread criticism for its lack of scientific rigour.

Chant Construction is no longer involved with the project, its role having been assumed by Gemini Power. Environmentalists were informed in early 2013 that the project had been dropped, but have since been surprised to learn that, on the contrary, the project is continuing to be pushed forward. As a result Canadian and American environmentalists have become re-engaged, are seeking clarification on the current status of the project, and are asking the Ontario government to work with the community to resolve its economic difficulties with projects that do not threaten the ecological integrity of the area and its wilderness parks or its internationally recognized network of wilderness canoe routes.

River:  Namakan River
MNR Site No: 5PA17, 5PA18 and 5PA8
Project Name:  High Falls, Hay Rapids and Myrtle Falls
Project Location:  Adjacent to Quetico Park, Rainy River District
Proponent:  Gemini Power (High Falls); Ojibway Power and Energy Group (Myrtle Falls and Hay Rapids).