Climate activists are criticizing a publicly owned Crown corporation for offering $4.8 million to the Town of Napanee to host a new gas plant to add electricity output to Ontario’s grid. If approved, the payment from Ontario Power Generation (OPG) will go to Napanee's Community Benefit Fund, but activists say it’s an attempt to persuade Ontario cities to accept a polluting project.
The proposition, spearheaded by OPG's subsidiary Atura Power, which holds the contract for the expansion, was presented before the town council for approval on Tuesday. But the council deferred approval and scheduled further discussions for an environmental assessment before giving the project the green light.
“It is totally inappropriate for OPG to be offering this payment. Offering payment in exchange for a licence to pollute is unacceptable,” said Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence. “The gas plant will lead to greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants, like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. The cumulative impacts of these plants and other industrial facilities in the Greater Napanee area are cause for serious concern.”
About 200 kilometres east of Toronto, Napanee already hosts Ontario's largest gas plant, the Lennox facility, which boasts a capacity of 2,100 megawatts (MW). The new proposal aims to contribute an additional 450 MW to Ontario's electricity grid.
However, Brooks said building a new plant is a guaranteed way to increase pollution.
There are other low-cost clean electricity options, he added. “Ontario should be adding more wind and solar power, should be doing better on energy conservation and efficiency, and taking better advantage of available hydropower in both Quebec and Manitoba.”
Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance who attended the city council meeting, says OPG should not use public money to try to persuade the Town of Napanee to endorse a third “dirty” gas plant in its community.
“Kingston, Thorold and Toronto have said no to new gas-fired generation capacity. The Town of Napanee should say no, too,” said Gibbons.
OPG should be working to help Ontario phase out gas power as soon as possible to reduce asthma attacks and protect our climate, he added. The total existing gas-generating capacity in Napanee is 2,900 MW, 27 per cent of Ontario’s total capacity, Gibbons said.
“It is totally inappropriate for OPG to be offering this payment. Offering payment in exchange for a licence to pollute is unacceptable,” said Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence. #Napanee #NewGasPlant
Atura Power spokesperson Darius Sokal told Canada's National Observer that community benefit agreements are common throughout Ontario and are an effective way for companies to establish and maintain a strong social licence to operate.
“It is common practice for good corporate citizens such as Atura Power to support the communities where we are privileged to live, work and play,” said Sokal. “The proposed Napanee Generating Station expansion is needed to maintain the reliable and cost-effective operation of Ontario’s electricity system during the transition to a net-zero economy.”
If approved, the proposed expansion project will be completed during the second quarter of 2028.
In October 2022, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) recommended Ontario acquire up to 1,500 MW of new gas-fired power generation. Subsequently, the Ministry of Energy instructed the IESO to start the procurement process.
The ministry has also instructed the IESO to clarify the need for energy project proponents to secure local council support. The IESO decided project proponents must secure a municipal resolution of support to be eligible for a contract.
Recently, Thorold city council also voted to deny Northland Power's proposed gas plant expansion in the city's southern region as a response to mounting concerns over emissions and the environmental impact of the $300-million project, echoing a growing global sentiment to prioritize cleaner energy alternatives.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.