Photo by Linda HeronPhoto Credit

Help Save Ontario Rivers from the Green Energy Rush – A Call to Action

Photo by Mark Clement

The Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA) was recently formed to create one big voice to raise an awareness of the rash of proposed waterpower projects currently going through the approval process in Ontario.    As of June 2011, there were 98 hydroelectric dam proposals on the books, and the 2005 Hatch Acres Report, Ontario Waterpower Potential, lists just under 600potential waterpower sites.

Many of these dams are slated for “modified peaking”, a method of holding water back in head ponds, for release at peak demand hours, and many rivers have plans for a multiple series of dams, which would involve many kilometers of inundated land and forest area.   These dams have been labeled as “Green Energy”, but they are not Green, and there are a multitude of research papers and studies by Environment Canada and MNR to back up this statement.

The Green Energy Act and Green Economy Act, with its accompanying FIT Program, have created a Green Energy Rush, the likes of which has not been seen since the Gold Rush days of old.  The Ontario government is offering generous incentives to producers of green energy, with a 50% bonus to produce power during peak demand hours.  This is where modified peaking comes in – the proponent can reap much higher revenues by holding water back to produce the maximum amount of power during those peak hours.  And, whether that energy is required or not, they are on the payroll with a 40 year contract.

Some would have you believe that municipalities will reap the rewards of millions of dollars coming in from the Gross Revenue Charge; however, it has recently come to light that the Ministry of Finance has not shared these waterpower revenues with municipalities for many years, and any other economic benefits are very short-lived as construction will last only a few years.  Once completed, the dams would be operated remotely, and only a few permanent jobs created locally.

The entire approvals process is proponent driven, and the Ministry authorities are ruled by a mandate to assist and facilitate these applications through to completion.  What ever happened to the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources’ mandates to protect our environment and natural resources?

It became abundantly clear very early on that we were not going to protect our Rivers through the Environmental Assessment (EA) process or by following the current rules, as the municipalities and public have been effectively neutralized by the Green Energy Act.

Gord Miller, our Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, in his 2007-2008 Annual Report, stated: “Ontario’s EA process is broken,” (p.28), and “a no decision is not a possible outcome” (p. 42). Since then, little has been done to address this issue.

In the struggle to gather information, it was only natural to reach out to other organizations facing dam proposals on other rivers across Ontario.   In that collaboration we found we were all struggling with the very same challenges – a lack of information, transparency, and cooperation on the part of the proponents, MNR and MOE; and legislative amendments which were rapidly being introduced to accommodate quick and easy processing of green energy proposals.

Consequently, the ORA came together to create a unified voice to address our common concerns and challenges, and to work to protect, conserve and restore healthy river ecosystems.  The ORA currently has some 30 River groups and organizations, representing 15 Ontario rivers, and we invite you to join us in creating an unstoppable voice that will bring some sense and sensibility to a very dysfunctional process.

Some of the obvious benefits of becoming an Alliance member are a sharing of information, expertise, ideas and resources to

  • Lobby for positive changes to the Site Release and EA processes;
  • Lobby for a moratorium on processing of dam applications until the cumulative effects of environmental impacts can be properly assessed and mitigated;
  • Lobby for fish passage and protection mitigation measures in all dam proposal agreements; and
  • Develop a plan and strategy to protect, conserve and restore Rivers across Ontario.

At the moment, these proposed dams are the most immediate and pressing issue, however, we are concerned about all issues affecting Ontario rivers and lakes – the numerous waste water treatment facilities across Ontario still pouring their treated and untreated effluent into our waterways, mining impacts, algae, cyanobacteria, invasive species, indiscriminate over-development of our shorelines, and on and on.

ORA recognizes the great work many other Organizations across Ontario have and are doing for our Lakes and Rivers, so if you have similar concerns and would like to join in the voice of our Alliance, then please contact us.    A strong unified voice will create positive change for our Ontario lakes and rivers and their ecosystems.

“Our future generations are depending on us.”

Linda Heron

Chair, Ontario Rivers Alliance