Next week, a company called Swift River Energy Limited will start ripping up the landscape to dam the waterfalls at the heart of the town of Bala, Ontario. The 4.5 MW project, located where Lake Muskoka issues into the Moon River, would produce a trivial amount of useful power. Most of the output will be delivered when Ontario and neighbouring utilities are already over-supplied. Ontario consumers will pay far above market rates for every drop of its juice — up to 17.685 cents/kWh. For the foreseeable future, the consumers benefiting from this project will be in Michigan and New York. They will pay pennies on the dollar for the exported power.
Lost will be an ancient portage route travelled for centuries by aboriginal people, explorers, fur traders, and more recently by recreational paddlers. Where there is today a public park with free parking and a place for folks to picnic, view the falls, swim and fish, in its place will be a concrete impoundment and powerhouse, probably surrounded with a barbed wire fence.
As documented in this post from Mitchell Shnier, the project’s development has been facilitated by a bogus Environmental Assessment process administered by conflicted government agencies charged with implementing the government’s green-at-all-cost agenda. The process has been based on phoney information from the proponent. Reasonable compromises proposed by concerned citizens that could have preserved some of the historic and amenity values of this unique site were simply ignored.
The destruction of Bala Falls is what we get when energy policy decisions are driven by public opinion polls. Most folks in Ontario think that hydro-power is environmentally friendly and cheap. All three political parties spout similar nonsense on how Ontario needs more hydro power.
The reality of new hydro power in Ontario is very different than historic hydro power. The good power generation sites were developed long ago. The last hydro power project constructed in Ontario that delivers net value for consumers today is probably OPG’s 82 MW Arnprior GS, completed in 1977 for $89 million (that included the spillway dam too). Reflecting the fact that the only hydro power sites left have marginal production potential that is very costly to exploit, every project since then has been a loser for consumers.
Ontario’s few remaining wild waterfalls are precious treasures, like old growth forests. Throwing them away for a miserable little bit of useful power at drastic expense is a testament to the current state of green thinking.
Here is a previous posting on ruinous hydro power development referencing the excellent work of the Ontario River’s Alliance that might interest folks following the story: http://www.tomadamsenergy.com/2012/06/14/water-power-developments-ugly-side/
Post script 4:45 pm October 16, 2014: After posting this commentary, I found this news report indicating that there may be some chance of reprieve for Bala Falls.
More details are available on here.
Perhaps the Wynne government will reconsider whether green-at-any-cost is really worth while.
Post script February 5, 2015: Consistent with the editing practice on this site of leaving the original posts intact warts and all except for line edits, to save folks the trouble of archiving material they want to keep, the previous post script references might be improved with this and this.