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Crony Capitalism in Small Town Ontario?
Northland Power Inc has proposed reshaping an existing "waste rock pile" into a huge water reservoir, above and adjacent to the homes of many people in the village of Marmora. A similar one built in Missouri during the 60's was the upper reservoir for the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant. It failed in December 2005 and released four million cubic meters (about 1 billion gallons) of water in 12 minutes. Fortunately only the family and home of the manager of the closed state park and campground below were swept away in that wintertime incident, however many permanent homes in Marmora could be destroyed and people drowned if a similar breach occurred at anytime of the year.
The planned reservoir is to be the upper one for Northland Power’s closed-loop ‘pumped storage’ energy storage project. This private developer intends to use lower-cost electricity purchased from the grid during off-peak times to pump existing water from the abandoned, spring-fed open-pit mine (the lower reservoir) to their man-made upper reservoir. During peak energy periods, the water drops back into the pit through turbines to generate and return electricity to the grid at a higher on-peak sale rate. You can find Northland’s description of the project here.
It takes more electricity from the grid to pump the water to the upper reservoir than is generated and returned to the grid by that same water when it drops back down. This project only makes economic sense if the difference between off-peak and on-peak industrial rates provides a profitable return to this private developer and its partner, Aecon Group Inc. (private owner of the abandoned mine property). They may also need to use energy to pump out excess water flowing into the lower reservoir from an underground spring.
An interesting aspect of this story is that the local council endorsed Northland Power’s project prior to this proposal being publicly revealed. They also approved a marketing campaign paid with municipal tax dollars to promote this private developer’s non-renewable energy project. Once the proposal was made public, their support continued against the concerns expressed by citizens such as libertarian-minded Kathy Hamilton. One has to wonder why the elected council of Marmora and Lake are ignoring this safety concern. You can find details of Kathy’s battle on her web site.
Marmora is a small town on Highway 7 about 60 Km east of Peterborough. The abandoned quarry pit shows as a lake on the Google satellite view of Marmora. (You may have to Zoom out.) You can see many homes between it and the Crowe River, including a nursing and retirement home. Would you want to own property downhill from this project?