Photo by Linda HeronPhoto Credit

Bala Falls Status Update – April 2012,

From the web site – used with permission.

We have been fighting a proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls in Bala, Ontario (in Muskoka) for over four years. For the proposed station:

  • The province’s taxpayers would pay the private developer the hugely subsidized rate of 17.685 ¢/kW•h (the base FIT rate of 13.1 ¢/kW•h plus the 35% peak adder for electricity generated between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm) whether the electricity was needed or not, even though just downstream there is an older existing hydro-electric generating station owned by OPG which generates electricity for which OPG is paid the standard 3 ¢/kW•h to 4 ¢/kW•h (for comparison, typical residential home owners in Ontario pay about 11 ¢/kW•h, as this includes the cost of transmission and distribution to homes – that is, the transformers, utility poles, and wires between us and the generators).
  • Being hydro-electric, these stations would generate the most electricity in the spring and fall (that is, when there is the most water). Unfortunately the demand is lowest at these times, yet the province would still be obligated to pay this private developer the hugely subsidized rate even when the electricty isn’t needed and must be sold to the U.S. at a much lower rate, and even when “negative pricing” occurs and Ontario must pay the U.S. to take our surplus power.
  • So when the electricity isn’t needed, the province (us taxpayers) would still be paying the 17.685 ¢/kW•h to the private developer for energy from the proposed station (the FIT contract requires this), and the OPG station downstream would need to spill the water bypassing their station (the Moon River cannot be used to store water), wasting the resource of the station that is already there and paid for, and wasting the water too.

But this isn’t just a temporary shame due to a political decision, the proposed station would permanently:

  • Make the in-water recreation (swimming, scuba diving, floating on inflatable toys, canoeing … that has been drawing tourists and supporting the local economy for 100 years) too dangerous to continue.
  • Make over 500′ of the only publically-accessible shoreline in the area too dangerous to access.
  • Require a poured-concrete building over 100′ long in direct view from the most popular vantage point.
  • Take 94% of the water over the falls throughout most of the year, leaving only a trickle — nobody will come to see where the falls used to be. The Bala falls are the only attraction that draws tourists to Bala, the area’s economy depends on it.
  • And for this, the proponent would receive a subsidy from us taxpayers of $100 million – just for this one 4 MW station – over the 40-year life of the contract.
  • Eliminate a historical portage that is part of the cultural heritage landscape of the area. And the daily water level fluctuations due to the cycling operation would affect the fish and shoreline habitat, the siren sounded each day would be annoying. And the barbed-wire fencing would be ugly.

And more crazy than that, over six months ago, the proponent withdrew their “Option 2″ proposal (which is the subject of all the environmental assessment information they have provided to date) and yet the Ontario Ministry of the Environment continues to spend staff resources considering approving this abandoned proposal, as they have been for over a year.

And the Ministry of the Environment has said they will accept this Option 2 environmental assessment as a foundation for whatever new proposal the proponent may put forth, even though the existing environmental assessment would have over 133 Sections, Tables, and Figures factually-incorrect as a result of their decision to change the location and orientation of their proposal.