The town council in Halton Hills, Ontario has voted 9-2 to turn down a proposal to build a new 265-MW gas plant on the site of the existing Halton Hills Generating Station.
The decision Monday evening was “the latest setback to Premier Doug Ford’s plan to build new gas plants to meet Ontario’s growing demand for electricity,” the Toronto Star reports. “For the last year, the province’s electricity system operator and developers have been pitching cities and towns on hosting new plants in an effort to build 1,500 megawatts of gas-fired generation but have only secured three local approvals for a total of 768 megawatts.”
Under rules established by Energy Minister Todd Smith, all the local proposals are conditional on municipal support resolutions adopted by city or town councils. So far, three of the six have declined, while Kingston opted against including gas plants in a motion conveying “blanket support” for new electricity projects. While Greater Napanee Town Council accepted a C$4.8-million payment from Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to approve a new 450-megawatt gas plant in late November, Halton rejected a 12-year, $3.5-million offer from OPG subsidiary Atura Power, Halton Hills Today writes.
“Addressing climate change is simple,” said local councillor Jane Fogal, previously a founder of Halton Hills Climate Action. “It’s done by making one good decision at a time. This is our time.”
“Saying yes to supporting this plant expansion will mean turning our backs on at least 10 years of environmental stewardship and it will also indicate to our residents that climate action is for someone else to worry about,” Mayor Ann Lawlor said before the vote. “Expansion of this plant will demonstrate yet another failure of governments to plan long term for a healthy planet where we all can thrive.”
The council debate played out in the first Canadian municipality to declare a 2030 deadline to bring its climate pollution to net-zero, the Star notes. “The energy system is in transition away from fossil fuels,” the town’s low-carbon transition strategy states [pdf]. “Halton Hills’ commitment to decarbonize ahead of the curve will enable us to capitalize on new economic opportunities, avoid projected financial losses, and ensure sustainable economic growth.”
At the council meeting, Chuck Farmer, chief energy transition officer with the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator, made a pitch for building and expanding gas plants to address short-term electricity demand. That was in spite of a fall, 2022 study commissioned by the IESO, which showed that distributed energy resources could meet the need without increasing the province’s reliance on methane-heavy gas plants.
“I’m very aware of how confusing the message can be: that we need to rely on fossil fuels to bridge out of fossil fuels,” Farmer said in Halton Hills. But “if we don’t maintain the reliability and affordability of the system, then we will lose the support for the longer-term journey and the investments that are required in order to get to net zero.”
But the town council wasn’t swayed, the Star writes, with Lawlor saying Atura had made little effort to help the municipality out with its 2030 target. “Do they really want us to say yes?” she asked. “If they have, why didn’t they give us a great pitch? Because I sure haven’t seen it tonight.”
Councillor Clark Somerville said he’d been prepared to support the gas plant proposal until a health professional contacted him to talk about childhood asthma cases in the nearby communities of Milton and Mississauga. “It is because of the emissions—that’s probably the biggest,” he told council, noting that communities around Halton Hills receive most of the air pollution from the existing Atura plant. “I just can’t in good conscience vote yes to the proposal tonight.”
16-year-old Georgetown High School student Matthew Tyhurst attended the council meeting to remind councillors of their 2030 pledge, Halton Hills Today says.
“I challenge you to think about when your grandchildren or great grandchildren will come up to you and ask, ‘What is snow?’” Tyhurst said. “‘How come there are no more winters? How come people are getting sick from the air outside? How come we have so many more tsunamis, hurricanes, and wildfires?’ And most importantly when they ask this question, ‘How come you didn’t do enough to stop this?’”
The Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which says keeping track of all the action has felt like playing a game of whack-a-mole, is keeping a running tally of local decisions. After Halton Hills turned down Altura’s generous compensation offer, OCAA adds, “perhaps OPG might now like to use that $3.5 million to help the people of Halton Hills install solar panels on their rooftops.”