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Controversy Surrounds Power Plan for New Gas Turbine in Halton Hills Amid 'Environmental Concerns'

Artura Power, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation and the owner of the Halton Hills' natural gas generating plant, is looking for Town Council's endorsement to install a new gas turbine at its facility beside the 401 Highway. Should the proposal go ahead, construction of a new building to house the turbine would begin in 2025 and would be completed in 2028 for $400 million.


The move comes after the Ford government, earlier this year, solicited proposals through its management and regulatory body IESO (Independent Electrical System Operator) for additional gas-powered generation, either through the construction of new facilities or the expansion of existing ones.


In a presentation before the Town Council on Oct. 10, Brad Kyte, Senior Manager of Business Development for Artura, made the case that the new turbine is needed to bolster Ontario's electrical grid and prevent blackouts during peak times. He cited a low-wind situation for ten days in July that would have resulted in power outages had not natural gas generation been available. “Natural gas was absolutely needed and without it there would have been blackouts would have occurred,” he said.


Kyte also made the point that Ontario has the lowest reserve margin among all grids across North America, including Mexico. “Ontario is growing,” he said. “Natural gas needed during peak times and low wind days...we still need gas as a backup with technologies that we have today.”


As well, Kyte stated that Ontario's population is expected to increase by 15% in next decade. “Peak demand will increase by 500 megawatts in this area by 2031; new turbine will contribute 265 megawatts,” he said.


The new turbine is a single-cycle operation, unlike most plants which use steam to power the turbines. This also means the turbine can be fired up quickly as opposed to those that are steam-driven. According to the proposal, starting in 2025, hydrogen will be blended with the natural gas trucked from a Niagara Falls OPG plant where hydrogen will be produced by an electrolyzer. “Hydrogen is an emerging technology that could reduce GHG emissions by up to 23,000 tonnes per year. This is the first step in advancing our long-term vision,” added Kyte.


Councillor Jane Fogel commented on Artura's proposal. “You are using electricity to produce electricity, why is that better? I'm worried that we keep building more fossil fuel energy that delays the time that we get to using green energy.”


Councillor Chantal Garneau summarily stated: “The Town of Halton Hills is recognized for its leadership and  environmental stewardship and sustainability and that's really important to many of our residents as well...Saying yes to a gas plant seems counter-intuitive to what we're working towards.”


Kyte replied by citing another IESO study. “We see this as a huge net benefit. Even if we increase our emissions by one tonne, that will produce a two tonne reduction in the broader economy.”


The meeting was also attended by several delegations of environmental groups and individuals clearly opposed to Artura's proposal. In total, 10 people and five organizations presented a spectrum of reasons not to endorse this project. Jack Gibbons from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance suggested increased power generation could be attained cheaper and quicker by investing in existing solar and wind power technologies, and pointed to a surplus amount of power available from Quebec during the summer months that could be accessed without infrastructure upgrades.


Another delegate, Evan Wiseman, from the Atmospheric Fund, posited that the present federal government was planning on eliminating natural gas generation by 2035 and Ontario tax payers could be left holding the bag for the dormant plants as Doug Ford has guaranteed system operators will get paid even if they are shut down by the federal edicts.


Halton Hills is among thirty or so Ontario municipalities that have called on the Ontario Government to phase out gas generation by 2030. However, this contingency is not workable according to Kyte. “In response, an IESO study found that it was not technically or economically feasible to phase out gas production by 2030,” he said.


The endorsement leaves councillors in a difficult position. In 2019, the municipality made a climate change declaration to achieve net zero by 2030 by replacing fossil fuel energy with renewable energy sources. Town Council is slated to decide whether or not to endorse the gas plant expansion at their next Council meeting on Dec. 11.

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