A proposed clean energy facility slated for construction near Georgian Bay will help facilitate Ontario’s energy transition and earn money for Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON), if a relationship between the nation and the project proponent proceeds.
The proposed pumped storage project will be the largest energy storage facility in the province, able to store 1,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power one million homes for 11 hours, according to John Mikkelsen, director of TC Energy Power & Energy Solutions.
Pumped storage produces and stores hydroelectric power using two reservoirs, one on high ground and another below it, which recirculates water depending on energy needs. During low power demand periods, the facility pumps water to the top reservoir, and during high-demand peaks, such as hot summer days, the water will be released to flow through a turbine to the lower reservoir. TC Energy and the nation are working on a partnership that will see economic benefits flow to SON, which is made up of the Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.
Negotiations are ongoing between TC Energy and SON, but the general framework is in place, Mikkelsen said. Both TC Energy and SON representatives have had meetings with government officials and financiers together, he added.
“We’re in a good, good place,” he added.
Mikkelsen noted the partnership would involve equity ownership, but it’s still unclear how revenues will flow and what percentage of equity SON will have for hosting the pumped storage facility on its territories.
TC Energy has also tapped Makwa-Cahill LP, a local Indigenous-led construction and fabrication company, to help construct and design the part of the facility in Georgian Bay.
Mikkelsen heard during consultations that there were concerns around the aquatic environment in Georgian Bay, which caused the company to devote time and resources to the facility design. Right now, work is being done to develop prototypes and test rigs.
“It's about time we have some economic benefits, and in the name of reconciliation, [and the] duty to consult, we're not going to stand back anymore and be silent,” Chief Veronica Smith of Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation told Canada’s National Observer in a previous interview.
“It's about time we have some economic benefits, and in the name of reconciliation, [and the] duty to consult, we're not going to stand back anymore and be silent,” says Chief Veronica Smith of Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.
Chief Smith also said SON voices will be heard on how to mitigate environmental impacts and ensure the project brings economic benefits to the communities.
Pumped storage technology effectively works as a hydroelectric battery for the province’s electrical grid and will be an important stopgap as Ontario moves towards more renewables. Energy from wind power, for example, can vary depending on the weather, allowing pumped storage to capture and conserve the energy for when it is needed.
TC Energy, the company spearheading the project alongside SON, saw the energy mix as an opportunity for the facility, as energy will either be wasted or exported if it cannot be stored, Mikkelsen said.
For example, nuclear power generates a baseline power, whether or not the energy grid’s demands require more or less. It’s why pumped storage works well with nuclear, as it stores the power used by Ontarians when the demand for nuclear’s output isn’t needed.
“Whether we go the renewable route, or we go the nuclear route, or a combination somewhere in between — that's probably where we're going to end up, with a mixture of both, you [will] need both,” he said.
“Ontario pumped storage represents a significant partnership opportunity for the people of Saugeen Ojibway Nation,” said Chief Smith and Conrad Ritchie, chief of Saugeen First Nation, in a press release on July 10.
“Should the partnership proceed, Saugeen Ojibway Nation will jointly develop, construct, operate and own the project, and would be entitled to a significant share of the project’s revenues that would provide lasting economic benefits to both nations for years to come.”
Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative