by BETTER FARMING STAFF
A grower’s organization is disputing proposals to build a power generation plant near the Holland Marsh.
“It’s just archaic,” Herman Gasko says of Ontario Power Authority’s call for proposals to establish a 350-megawatt gas-generated plant in the northern York Region. “It’s an old system. They’re burning at 35 per cent efficiency, these ‘peaker’ plants.” Gasko, who is the secretary of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, says he’s heard of three proposals for sites that are within a kilometre from his farm and less than one kilometre from the marsh.
The Marsh, 2,900 ha of organic (muck) soil, located about 50 kilometres north of Toronto, is one of Canada’s largest vegetable producing areas. Crops are worth $75 – 125 million annually.
For this farmer, contamination of crops from plant emissions is of major concern – not to mention the impact on an environmentally sensitive area protected by provincial Greenbelt legislation. “It can’t be good,” he says.
The authority’s website, says the plant would operate 800-900 hours a year to supply electricity only during peak demand, such as on hot summer days. It would serve the northern York Region where demand for power is predicted to grow three per cent annually over the next decade.
Four companies with nine sites are vying to build the plant. The authority plans to announce the winner Dec. 31.
Three locations proposed are in the Township of King. On Wednesday, Oct. 22, the township will host a public meeting to address rezoning applications for two of the locations, both proposed by Northland Power Inc.; Pristine Power Inc. is proposing the third location.
Jack Rupke, a township councilor, says his municipality is not a “willing” host for the project but won’t delay or deny prospective companies’ municipal rezoning applications. “It’s a very delicate situation,” the councilor says, explaining such actions could lead to an Ontario Municipal Board challenge. The board is a provincial tribunal that hears appeals or applications concerning municipal or planning matters.
Other municipal jurisdictions where locations are proposed, such as East Gwillimbury, Georgina, Bradford West Gwillimbury and Aurora, have likewise expressed unwillingness to host the plant; Newmarket has turned it down, he says.
Rupke’s township is consulting companies that specialize in emission environmental impacts about the information it has received from Northland and Pristine. “I’m hearing two different stories and I want to be assured that what happens at the end is going to protect land, the environment and people,” he says.
Boris Balan, a Northland spokesperson, says his company is studying the emissions’ effect on agriculture. Water usage is another concern for growers and other residents, which is why his company has “specifically designed a system that does not require any processed water at all.”
Jamie Reaume, the grower association’s executive director, says his organization is working with Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental activist group. They have contacted three provincial ministers about the issue, including Leona Dombrowsky, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. “This is about sustainability,” Reaume says. At the OPA, that’s defined by having energy. “We’re saying sustainability is defined by us (growers) as having food.” BF