‘Mistake by the Lake’- Community group alarmed at planned upgrades for waterfront natural gas plant

Daryl Gonsalves –

 Toronto’s erratic weather and air quality this past winter suggests that Canada needs to take a leap forward on climate change solutions instead of advancing by incremental steps. However, some argue that we are moving backwards.

Toronto East Residents for Renewable Energy (TERRE) held advocacy events in May to oppose the planned capital upgrade to the Portlands Ener­gy Centre, the natural gas plant located west of Leslie Street on Unwin Avenue. TERRE oppos­es any increase in the plant’s output because they argue that the resulting emissions damage the environment and health of nearby communities.

According to Natural Re­sources Canada, the country is warming faster than the world average. In a global economy where private finance is increas­ingly aligned behind achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emis­sions, the pragmatic case to meaningfully tackle climate change is increasingly becom­ing economic as well. However, the Independent Electricity Sys­tem Operator (IESO) states that Ontario’s rapid economic and population growth, mining and steel electrification and growth in electric-vehicle industries are accelerating electricity demand growth across the province, which complicates the transition to net-zero.

According to the City of To­ronto data from 2021, build­ings contribute towards the most greenhouse gas emissions (56%), followed by transporta­tion (35%) and waste (9%). City Council has adopted an ambi­tious strategy to reduce commu­nity-wide emissions to net zero by 2040.

Environmental Defence says the city’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions is the Portlands Energy Centre. Another climate action group, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, notes that the waterfront facility produces as much pollution as 133,000 cars.

The Portlands Energy Centre is operated by Atura Power, a subsidiary of the provincially owned Ontario Power Genera­tion.

Atura Power’s website acknowl­edges that natural gas has envi­ronmental impacts and argues that its facilities use modern technology to emit 60 percent less carbon and fewer air pollut­ants than other fossil fuels. At­ura states that the manufacturer of the capital upgrades has pro­vided written letters stating that the planned investments will not increase the facility’s cur­rent levels of air pollutants and noise beyond the environmental permitting limits. TERRE does not believe this is accurate.

TERRE, a coalition of East End residents and local climate justice groups, wants the Port­lands Energy Centre phased out by 2030, replaced by renewable energy generation in Toronto and across Ontario. TERRE has requested an elevated environ­mental assessment process of the plant and the planned up­grade from the province’s Envi­ronment Ministry.

Joyce McLean of TERRE ar­gues that Ontario must avoid energy generation options with negative environmental and health impacts. She questions the rationale to upgrade the gas plant while the city is making significant residential housing investments in the area.

TERRE’s community health forum in the Ralph Thornton Community Centre on May 15 was well attended, with speak­ers including Toronto Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns and Ward 14 Councillor Paula Fletcher. How­ever, Dr. Mili Roy of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) stole the show.

May 15 TERRE forum at the Ralph Thornton Community Cenre. Photo: Daryl G.

In her comprehensive pres­entation on the impacts of cli­mate change and poor air qual­ity, Roy said nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the main pollutant re­leased by the Portlands Energy Centre, accounts for nearly all local NO2 emissions. She cau­tioned that NO2 exposure limits have decreased over time while the gas plant’s NO2 emissions have doubled since it was com­missioned.

Noticing that the Portlands Energy Centre participated in the Doors Open Toronto week­end, TERRE held an advocacy action on May 25. McLean said TERRE handed informational resources to visitors on the im­pacts of the gas plant facility and was rewarded with positive interactions.

If readers wish to find more information about TERRE, vis­it www.TERREcoalition.ca and you may also sign up to its mail­ing list.

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