Wabagishik Rapids
Wabagishik Rapids on the Vermilion River

Linda Heron

We are in a Green Energy Rush – like the gold rush days of old. I think everyone wants green energy, but many of these proposals have been green-washed to make them appear to be safe for the environment, when in fact they are dirty energy. Hydro-electric projects that use holding ponds, and ‘modified peaking’ to take advantage of peak demand bonus rates, are actually dirty energy.

To most, Green Energy means “environmentally friendly”, but there are many studies by MNR and Environment Canada that indicate dams which hold water flow back to generate power for peak demand results in decreased water quantity and flow, and impacts on water quality both upstream and downstream of the dams. This results in a rise in water temperature, sediment retention and turbidity, higher nitrogen and phosphorus levels from nutrient loading, increase in methyl mercury, low dissolved oxygen levels, causing harm to aquatic life, and degradation of habit. These dams also impede fish passage, and further endanger species at risk, and the entire biota of the river system. It sounds like a recipe for algae doesn’t it?

Currently there are just under 100 waterpower proposals across Ontario going through the approvals process, with just under 600 potential sites on the books. So, you would think MNR and MOE would ensure they were environmentally safe, wouldn’t you? Well, think again – that’s what I thought also, but I had a rude awakening.

The Green Energy Act and Green Economy Act changed many things, including MNR and MOE’s agenda. In order to push through as many green energy projects as possible, their roles have changed to facilitating these projects, to get them up and running quickly, and mitigating any potential negative impacts. A FIT Contract and Site Release are awarded without any public consultation whatsoever, and you would think the Environmental Assessment process might be able to stop a project if it was going to be bad for the river ecosystem, wouldn’t you? The answer is NO.

This is a proponent led process, so it is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Important information is not shared by the proponent (why would they – it’s not in their best interest), and the MNR and MOE say it is up to the proponent, so very little meaningful information is shared with the stakeholders. If stakeholders want information they must file a Freedom of Information Application, but the problem with that is the information costs hundreds, and sometimes up into the thousands of dollars – and not many small organizations can afford that.

So we are left in the dark. This is NOT a transparent and open process – therefore trust and confidence in the system is totally eroded!

This legislation also took away the power of a municipality, or the public to have any say, or to stop a project that is not wanted or not in the best interests of the Community or environment. It sounds like we have lost our democracy, doesn’t it?

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.

Ontario rivers are at major risk. We must take care of our rivers and lakes, for without water there will be no life. Let’s take the precautionary approach, and ask for a moratorium on waterpower development until we can study the cumulative effects of all these dams on Ontario riverine ecosystems, and on our Great Lakes. Let’s take a step back from this Green Energy Rush, until we have had an opportunity to repair our Environmental Assessment process and put our MNR and MOE back into the business of protecting our environment and natural resources.

Our children are depending on us!

Linda Heron
Vermilion River Stewardship