This is a guest blog by Mark Freeman, a Thorold resident and activist who helped lead the charge to vote down a new gas plant proposal in Thorold, Ontario.
As you may know by now, Thorold City council voted unanimously against Northland Power’s proposal to build a new gas plant in Thorold.
Or as I like to think of it… the people of Thorold: 1, Energy Minister Smith: 0.
While I support numerous campaigns related to biodiversity loss and climate change, I usually feel like I want to do more. So when I found out that the Ontario Government was planning to build a new gas-fired power plant where I live, in Thorold Ontario, the fight suddenly got personal. I felt like it was my responsibility to step-up and do something!
What we did
So, I got to work – contacting environmental groups, local, provincial and national, who I knew were already battling Ontario’s plan to build new gas plants in the province. Working alongside these organizations, we raised the visibility among local residents of the proposed gas plant project, requesting they write Thorold City councillors urging them to oppose the project.
Together, we ran digital ads, published articles with local papers, and delivered flyers to neighbourhoods close by the plant. Over two hundred letters were sent to city councillors, and all of it seemed to have had an effect as Thorold City Council established a special council meeting to focus on the proposed gas plant project.
At this point we knew we were making progress and had a shot.
The Council Meeting
The meeting was held on September 19th. After Northland Power presented their project proposal, two businesses – Walker Industries and Bioveld Canada – rather uncomfortably spoke about their love of “renewable natural gas” and Northland Power.
On the opposing side, Jack Gibbons from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and three local residents spoke to the reasons to vote against the project. Points around the environmental, health and financial implications of the project were common throughout all of our presentations.
Presentations focused on the importance of fighting climate change in communities, a lack of need for gas peaker plants, and maybe most impactful of all, a personal plea from a resident who lives in the shadow of the city’s existing gas plant. He said they can see the brown smoke during the day and can even feel the particulate matter falling on them when they are out at night. His heartfelt speech really moved the councillors, giving even the climate deniers among them a solid reason to vote against the new project proposal.
In the end, the councillors unanimously agreed to oppose the proposed gas plant based on three fundamental concerns:
- Bad for the planet: The need to stop increasing GHG emissions that is making climate change worse.
- Bad for the budget: from spending hundreds of millions of dollars on peaker plants that will rarely ever be used; to burning gas when renewables are a cheaper way to provide electricity; and the increase of dirty power generation which will scare off future investors / businesses.
- Bad for our health: Local air pollution and the resulting health issues to local residents.
When the councillors were asked to provide their perspectives on the project proposal, 3 councillors made it clear that they are very concerned about and want to take action against climate change, while all of the councillors stressed the need to protect local residents from increased air pollution. It should be noted that two councillors stated that they do not believe in climate change or to mitigating solutions, however they opposed the project regardless. The mayor summed it up by saying that the council meeting was a great example of democracy in action, where opposing sides spoke civilly about their reasons to support or oppose the project.
A couple of councillors challenged Northland Power to come back to city council with an alternative proposal to meet the IESO’s request utilizing renewable energy or energy storage.
A win for Thorold and its residents
At the end of the day, I saw the residents of Thorold, along with Thorold City Council sending a clear message to the Ontario Government, with a not-so-subtle request to find another way to meet Ontario’s energy needs. We do not want to continue with the status quo, increasing our GHG emissions and air pollution. We want a forward-thinking government doing the right things for the right reasons.
As a local organizer opposing the gas plant proposal, I am pleased with the decision from city council to oppose the gas plant project and am proud to live in a city that does what is right for its citizens. I am grateful for the amazing work of 2 local environmental groups (Biodiversity and Climate Action Committee Niagara and 50by30 Niagara), who helped to motivate and mobilize local residents to voicing their concerns and urge city councillors to oppose the project. I am very thankful for the support provided by Ontario Clean Air Alliance and Environmental Defence who provided us with the information and materials we needed for the fight, and for spreading the message even further than we could.
The work still left to do
All that said, we need to recognize that all we accomplished last week was to remain standing still and not make the climate crisis any worse. We must now take steps to turn this ship around and reduce Canada’s GHG emissions – which must include the halting of all further expansion of fossil gas infrastructure in the region, province and country. Instead of heating buildings and water with “natural” gas, we must utilize other existing technologies such as heat pumps and district heating. Then we will be actually making progress in our fight to mitigate climate change.
Mark holds a Computer Engineering degree and worked 25 years in IT and Telecom before becoming increasingly aware of and engaged with the environmental movement within Canada, specifically working to address climate change and biodiversity loss.