Thorold City Council has unanimously voted not to endorse the proposed gas plant expansion in Thorold South.
On Tuesday evening, the council chamber was filled with worried residents, as several supporters and opponents of the expansion took to the podium.
First up was the representative of Northland Power, Salvatore Provvidenza.
"The decision to initiate the project was not taken lightly," he told councillors. “The call is for capacity with the understanding that the project will produce little energy and emissions. The Thorold site makes sense. We have the ability to leverage existing infrastructure.”
Provvidenza said that the proposed expansion would be utilized as a a peaking plant, only to be used between one and five percent of the time.
He also said that Northland wants to use renewable natural gas (RNG) to offset some of the emissions released by the peaking plant. Provvidenza pointed out that the main driver of climate change is transportation.
“If people here are concerned about the air quality in Thorold, I implore them so shift away from gasoline or diesel engines and go to electrical vehicles and ride your bike,” he said.
Then it was up to Graham Guest of Walker Industries to explain how Walker is using the released methane of their landfill to create renewable gas energy. A representative of Bioveld Canada also gave a short presentation in support of the expansion.
When it came to the opposition, there were five different speakers: Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, and four local residents.
“Unfortunately Ontario is moving in the wrong direction,” said Gibbons. “It does not make sense to build new gas plants when the world is on fire, when scientists are telling us we need to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution by almost 50 per cent by 2030.”
Local resident Mark Freeman, who has been leading the fight against the expansion, also spoke at the meeting.
“This proposed gas plant project is part of the province’s ill-conceived plan that if implemented would increase the portion of Ontario’s dirty electricity generation to over 25% in just a couple of decades,” he said. “The plant would also have the potential to increase greenhouse gasses from power generation seven-fold by 2043.”
Don Morley, who lives in Thorold South, made a real impression on councillors as he recounted what it's been like living next to the existing gas plant.
"I can't begin to express the concern I have for the particulates that are currently falling," he said. "The pollution that's being pumped out now will only be greater, not less. There are many citizens out there that deserve better.”
Later in the evening, Councillor Tim O'Hare named a list of toxins and asked Provvidenza whether or not the planned expansion would emit them.
"It would probably vary between minimal and trace amounts," Provvidenza answered.
Local resident Jordan Beekhuis was a notable speaker during the evening, as he is a professional engineer working in the energy sector, building hydro, wind and solar projects in the Niagara Region.
“The Pickering nuclear plant is shutting down,” Beekhuis said. “There’s a base load concern and we’ve been telling the industry for years that we need to ramp our renewable energy production. But this is isn’t a base load plant. This is a peaker.”
Beekhuis said that the Thorold South expansion would enable Northland to ramp up production at their other plants, leading to more emissions in Ontario.
“Ontario has an incredible clean and reliable electricity sector,” he said. “We took 20 per cent of our coal and we wiped it out from the electricity sector. Promoting these sorts of projects and not pushing harder and say: ‘You can do better,’ is undermining the work that we’ve done.”
After all the presentations were over, councillors asked meticulous questions of the speakers, and then it was time to discuss whether or not to endorse the expansion.
Councillor Anthony Longo went first and stood up in support of concerned residents, as all other councillors followed suit.
“You have the land, let’s look at putting solar there,” suggested Councillor Ken Sentance. "Let’s work together. Let’s be partners in this.”
A recorded vote took place that saw councillors unanimously vote against signing a letter of endorsement for the project.
When it was over, people in the audience erupted in loud applause.
“I’m quite proud of Thorold City Council,” Freeman told ThoroldToday after the meeting. “I feel proud to live here. This was the right decision for the health of local citizens. as well as for climate change, as well as for the economics of attracting new business to the region.”
Still, Freeman warns that the fight is not over.
“When we look at what’s accomplished here, all we really managed to do is stay standing still,” he said. “We stopped them from making things worse. We really need to turn the ship around and increase our use of renewables and decrease our use of fossil fuels.”