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Napanee council supports gas plant expansion despite emission concerns

Atura Power's Napanee Generating Station is shown in this screenshot from Google Street View. Greater Napanee councillors voted in favour of supporting an expansion at the site. (Google Maps - image credit)
Atura Power's Napanee Generating Station is shown in this screenshot from Google Street View. Greater Napanee councillors voted in favour of supporting an expansion at the site. (Google Maps - image credit)

Greater Napanee has signalled its support for an expansion at an area gas plant — and annual payments of up to $400,000 that would come with it — despite concerns from residents and environmental activists about fossil fuel emissions.

During a council meeting Tuesday night, members voted in favour of a proposal from Ontario Power Generation subsidiary Atura Power to add another turbine at its Napanee generating station.

A staff report highlighted financial considerations, including the company's suggestion it would provide a community benefit fund if it received support, which could add up to $4.8 million over the life of a 12-year contract.

That figure was described as a "payoff" by Keith Brooks, a member of advocacy group Environmental Defence, during a marathon meeting on Nov. 14 where council initially discussed the project, but deferred its decision.

In the very near future we're going to need a lot of energy. - Coun. Dave Pinnell Jr.

While the money might be attractive, "it doesn't sit well with a lot of people," he said.

Brooks was among those who spoke against the expansion, urging councillors to reject it. He also called natural gas a "key driver of climate change."

"It's not clean. It's not low-carbon. It's not a bridge fuel. It's a fossil fuel plain and simple," he said.

Brad Kyte, a senior manager with Atura, argued at the same meeting that Ontario is at a high risk of blackouts and said natural gas is the only way to provide reliability during emergencies.

In response to councillor questions, Kyte also confirmed companies must get approval from local councils before putting forward a proposal. The provincial government essentially gave communities a veto on energy projects.

"Practically speaking, if you decide tonight to not grant a resolution, we would not submit a proposal for this project," he said.

Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence says only 9 per cent of the plastics used in Canada are being recycled.
Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence says only 9 per cent of the plastics used in Canada are being recycled.

Keith Brooks from Environmental Defence urged councillors to say no to expanding the gas plant. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

'Urgent need' for electrical infrastructure

Councillors also heard from Chuck Farmer, chief energy transition officer for Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which manages the province's electricity needs.

He told them there's an "urgent need" to build electricity infrastructure, adding forecasts show demand is set to rise by as much as 40 per cent over the next two decades.

Farmer pointed to recent announcements about electrical vehicle and battery plants in Ontario as an example, saying they'll consume as much power as the city of London, Ont.

After all of the delegations two weeks earlier, council reached a decision Tuesday with little deliberation.

Staff said, if the project was awarded, the Ministry of Environment would first have to give its stamp of approval because of the level of emissions the new 450-megawatt turbine would produce.

Ward 3 Coun. Dave Pinnell Jr. said he believes the province is going to need more power than wind and solar can provide and he supports expansion at the gas plant.

"I just think in the very near future we're going to need a lot of energy," he said.

Only Ward 2 Coun. Angela Hicks voted against the motion.

In a statement shared by email, Atura spokesperson Darius Sokal said the company is "very pleased" to receive Napanee's support.

The town is "part of the solution to meet increased electricity demand" while the province moves toward decarbonization, he wrote.

Neighbouring township turned down expansion

Just one day before Napanee voted in favour of growing its gas plant, nearby Loyalist Township rejected a similar plan.

Councillors there considered a blanket resolution that would show support for several applications to the IESO, including an expansion at a gas plant.

"We should not entertain at all any fossil fuel developments in our township," said Coun. Paul Proderick.

The township's council ultimately agreed it didn't have enough information about the proposals and decided not to take any action.