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Meaford pumped hydro project a key to TC Energy’s transition

1,000-megawatt project would cut 490,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year

A rendering of the Ontario Pumped Storage in Meaford, Ont. (Courtesy Ontario Pumped Storage)

Calgary's TC Energy Corp., which primarily builds, owns and operates natural gas and oil pipelines, sees pumped hydro storage as a part of its shift to a cleaner energy portfolio and is developing a project in Meaford, Ont. called Ontario Pumped Storage (OPS).

Pumped hydro storage is a method of storing water and releasing it on demand to produce additional energy – assisting with the switch to non-emitting sources of electricity.

As Ontario transitions to a cleaner electricity grid, it will need a portfolio of new emissions-free power that will rely heavily on long-duration storage, Sara Beasley, communications lead of OPS, told SustainableBiz in an email.

“OPS would deliver clean energy during times of peak demand while providing ratepayers with an affordable solution to drive Ontario’s clean energy transition and accelerate economic growth in the province,” she said.

The Meaford project

The Municipality of Meaford lies in a sub-basin of Georgian Bay and Owen Sound Bay, approximately an hour-and-a-half drive from Barrie.

TC Energy says Ontario’s rising electricity needs, coupled with a push for clean electricity, makes OPS an attractive proposition. It would store enough electricity to power one million homes for 11 hours, Beasley said.

The company projects 1,000 megawatts of load and generation, eliminating 490,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year — equal to removing 150,000 cars from Ontario’s roads.

OPS would pump water from Georgian Bay using an electricity surplus in the grid into a 375-acre reservoir on top of an escarpment.

Typically, high demand for electricity in peak hours is met through gas-fired generation. OPS will instead release water from the reservoir during high demand, which will flow through a turbine to generate electricity and return to the bay. An underground powerhouse near the reservoir would power the pumps.

Beasley emphasized this does not generate new power, but instead efficiently stores the electrical grid’s excess power and uses it on demand.

Proposed to be within the confines of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre, a military facility outside the village of Meaford, Beasley described the site as having “the ideal topographic and geographic conditions for pumped storage,” such as elevation and proximity to water. No other location in Southern Ontario meets the elevation requirements for an efficient pumped storage facility, she added.

TC Energy and its prospective partner Saugeen Ojibway Nation announced the project in 2019 and received conditional support from Meaford council for construction and operation.

Following provincial and federal assessments in late 2023, TC Energy anticipates a further three years to prepare for construction. It expects construction to take around four years. Service is expected in the early 2030s with a project lifespan of approximately 100 years.

A final investment decision is expected in 2024.

Over $12.1 billion in energy cost savings over 40 years would be created, TC Energy said. OPS would create over 600 direct and indirect jobs during peak construction activities, and over 70 direct and indirect jobs during operation, it also estimates.

Response to locals’ concerns

OPS did not progress without some controversy. Locals raised concerns over its potential impact on the environment, its design, safety, claimed financial benefits and the carbon-offset potential, while suggesting alternatives for clean energy supply and storage, according to the Owen Sound Sun Times.

Save Georgian Bay, a Meaford-based group opposed to OPS, suggests substitutes such as battery projects or purchasing electricity from Hydro-Quebec. The group argues most of the jobs created by OPS will be temporary, and TC Energy lacks experience with pumped hydro storage projects.

In a response to the ecological worries, Beasley said TC Energy has been conducting project-specific environmental field studies every season for the past three years to gather data on water quality and fish and their habitat, and incorporate them into the design of OPS. The design was changed to accommodate concerns about wildlife, such as screens to protect aquatic life.

Those findings will be used in provincial and federal environmental and impact assessments.

TC Energy’s portfolio transition

TC Energy remains largely a fossil fuel-oriented business, but has made a series of investments into clean energy projects.

In addition to OPS, the company has under development the 75-gigawatt Canyon Creek Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Project in Alberta and the 81-megawatt Saddlebrook Solar + Storage Project that will supply solar energy in conjunction with a battery energy storage system.

It committed to net-zero operations by 2050 and took steps toward that goal by investing in low-carbon energy infrastructure and reducing its methane emissions.

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