Photo by Linda HeronPhoto Credit

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….

The Green Energy Act & Green Economy Act

The Green Energy Act and Green Economy Act, with its accompanying Feed-In-Tariff (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, they are on the payroll for all the energy they produce, whether it’s required or not, and with a 40 year contract to boot – a pretty sweet deal!

To make life easier for those proponents developing green energy projects, our provincial government has streamlined the entire process to ensure lots of these projects are up and running very quickly. The powers that be have placed the proponent completely in charge of deciding when to notify and consult with stakeholders, relay information, and  share important documentation, and this allows proposals to proceed swiftly and surely through the entire Site Release and Environmental Assessment (EA) process, unimpeded. This has literally put the fox in charge of the chicken koop.  So who is looking after our environment and natural resources??

The Roles of  MNR and MOE have Changed

The MNR and MOE’s primary roles have changed from protecting our environment and natural resources, to that of facilitating the proposals and mitigating any problems.  The proponent never even has to worry about a pesky old “no” to his EA, because that’s not a possibility anymore – once they have their Site Release they are away to the races.  The proposed projects continue to proceed through all the hurdles, without any troubles, other than the odd stakeholder who tries to trip their smooth progression up, however, those stumbling blocks are easily dealt with by their facilitators, MNR and MOE, for easy progress through to construction.

The stakeholders are left out in the cold without enough information to determine whether the project will be harmful to the environment, the river ecosystem, or their Community.  MNR and MOE’s orders are to get those “Green” projects up and running, so we have lost the safeguards.  The experience for the stakeholder is a total lack of transparency, openness, inclusion, and cooperation throughout the process, which has resulted in a loss of trust and confidence in the entire system, and the government.

The Environmental Assessment Process

Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario, in his 2007 – 2008 Annual Report, gave a scathing report for the EA system, and stated:

  • “It would not be too forceful to say that Ontario’s EA process is broken.  We have lost the old vision for EA; a new vision is urgently needed.”
  •  “A ‘no’ decision is not a possible outcome.”
 Hydroelectric Energy – Is it Green?

Hydroelectric dams using peaking methods with head ponds are not green energy, but actually produce dirty energy.   Some of the negative impacts on the riverine ecosystem may include:

  • warming of the surface water within the head pond and modification of downstream water temperatures
  • lowering of dissolved oxygen;
  • increased levels of nitrates and phosphorus
  • increased methylation of mercury;
  • sediment retention;
  • increased turbidity and suspension of nutrients in water;
  • increased erosion and deposition of downstream sediments and associated contaminants.
  • drinking water quality is diminished

Learn more by checking out the Environment Canada and MNR studies.

Economic Reality

Developers 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 dollars with municipalities in several 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.


We all want Green energy, but let’s ensure it is truly green.  Without the proper scrutiny of an effective EA process, we must ask what will the cumulative effects of all these dams be on our Ontario River ecosystems, and ultimately the Great Lakes?

With the repeal of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the gutting of the Lakes and Rivers Protection Act, and our Endangered Species Act threatened, our environmental protection is slipping away very quickly.   We must all act with one unified voice.  Please consider supporting ORA by becoming a member today.

 “Our future generations are depending on us”