The background for this proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls is that Ontario Hydro used to be responsible for all power generation and transmission in Ontario. But as part of attempting to create competition for this monopoly, in 1998 the Ontario government split Ontario Hydro into several organizations – such as Ontario Power Generation (generates electricity) and Hydro One (plans, installs, and operates high-voltage transmission towers).
As OPG had huge overruns on the construction of some generating stations (most notably the Darlington nuclear generating station, but much of this was due to political delays), private companies would then be able to build and operate generating stations and this would hopefully be more efficient (due to competition) and the government would not have to take the risk of cost and schedule overruns as private companies would have this responsibility. To encourage private companies to take on this risk, the government would provide highly-subsidized and stable rates for the electricity with a guaranteed 20- or 40-year contract (this is the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-In Tariff program).
The provincial government then had to create a process to provide the land on which new hydro-electric generating stations could be located. Since the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources already had the responsibility for operating most of the dams in Ontario, they got the responsibility to release land the government owned with an arrangement where a private developer would get a long-term lease for the land on which to build a generating station and in return the private developer would have to maintain and operate the dam (for example, doing minor repairs and adjust stop-logs as required to maintain flows and water levels as required).
This turns out to be somewhat of a conflict of interest in that the MNR is also responsible for fish habitat, yet the turbines that drive the generators of a hydro-electric generating station kill fish, so the MNR no longer can fully represent the public’s interest in ensuring that fish are protected.
So in 2004 the MNR released an updated Policy and Procedure called Waterpower new Site Release and Development Review which prescribed the process for a “competitive site release” where specific sites would be made available for private developers (who are called “proponents”). The MNR would select a proponent for each site by solicitng proposals from potential proponents and evaluating them based on factors such as whether local First Nations would be involved, the quality of the site planning, and the financial capability and technical experience of the proponent.
The actual sites released were selected from a large list of potential sites (see the last 25 pages here) which considered factors such as how much power could be generated (depends on the flow and drop of the water), the distance the power lines would need to run to the nearest Hydro One connection point, the accessibility of the site, whether the site is protected for heritage purposes, and whether First Nations communities would be affected. Unfortunately, when selecting sites for release, the MNR did not consider potential negative impacts to the local area’s economy or public safety concerns. The MNR also made an inadequate check for impacts to sites important to First Nations, whether an established portage would be obstructed, and whether the waterbody has less Crown land frontage than is required by the Public Lands Act.
Also, it turns out the environmental assessment process is a farce, as a proposed project has never been stopped or even required to provide the additional level of detail of an individual environmental assessment.
Some other problems with this currently-proposed project are presented here.
Other concerns are detailed under “Recent Articles” at the right at SaveTheBalaFalls.com