Why We’re Opposed

Damage to the Niagara Escarpment

Among the project’s most concerning environmental threats is TC Energy’s plans to excavate a 375-acre reservoir on the Niagara Escarpment – a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Curiously, TC Energy likes to claim its project is not, in fact, on the Niagara Escarpment, although its illustrations clearly show the massive tunnels it plans to bore from the reservoir deep through the escarpment’s limestone to underground shoreline turbines and hence to its intake/release pipes beneath the lake bed of Georgian Bay. But that disclaimer is a bureaucratic nicety. Since the project is on federal Defence Department land, it is not subject to the official constraints and regulations of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, but that does not change the fact that its reservoir will be carved out of a unique and fragile geological formation—one the UN saw fit to protect.

The Niagara Escarpment
Ludington Pumped Storage Plant (During Construction)

Threats to Georgian Bay

TC Energy has proposed its open-loop Pumped Storage Project on Defence Department lands straddling the Niagara Escarpment precisely because the site offers unfettered access to the public waters of Georgian Bay. Its hydro-electric plant would pump 23 billion litres of that bay water up the 150-metre elevation at night when electricity demands and prices are low—storing it in a mammoth reservoir nearly twice the size of Lake Louise—then release it back into the bay to generate electricity when demand, and daytime rates, are high. That process, repeated every day for the projected 100-year life span of the project, threatens to suck countless small fish into the plant’s giant underground turbines, not only killing them but causing unnatural currents that will disrupt the bay’s entire aquatic ecosystem.

The installation of its high-voltage underwater transmission lines from Meaford to Wasaga Beach, 50 kilometres away, will disturb lakebed sediment and further impact marine habitat. The project has the potential to pollute one of the province’s most prized resources: the irreplaceable fresh waters of Georgian Bay, vital to the area’s recreation, tourism and fishing industries.

TC Energy says it will employ mitigation measures to minimize fish kill, but one of its models for the Meaford project is the continent’s second largest pumped storage project in Ludington, Michigan, opened in 1973. There, it took a 12-year lawsuit by the National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups—including state and federal agencies—to stop the plant from killing 150 million fish a year. Even today, the mandated two-kilometre net erected over its intake pipes cannot keep fish under five inches from being sucked into its six giant turbines. Ludington’s costs and environmental issues are cited as one reason no new open-loop pumped storage project has been built on this continent since 2010.

Ludington Pumped Storage Plant on Lake Michigan
Georgian Bay

Underwater Cable

Unexploded Munitions and Toxic Contamination

TC Energy’s Pumped Storage Project will be located on the 4th Canadian Forces Division Training Centre in Meaford, an active military base created during the Second World War from expropriated farms. Known locally as the Meaford Tank Range, the 19,000-acre base is littered with so many unexploded munitions, heavy metal compounds and other toxins from 80 years of weapons use that large areas have been declared off-limits even to the military training there today.

On a Defence Department map of the range supplied to Meaford council in 2021, one of three contaminated areas is labelled “White Phosphorus”—a highly toxic substance used in smoke grenades, tracer shells and mortars that ignites on contact with oxygen and can cause severe burns and total organ failure. Among the other chemicals of concern according to a Treasury Board Review of Federal Contaminated Sites: methyl mercury, nitrogen oxides, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and organo-metallic compounds containing lead and arsenic–all threats to human health, aquatic life, soil and water.

Two decades ago, a former base worker swore an affidavit that he had been ordered to help bury four barrels of the dioxin-based defoliant Agent Orange on the site, sparking a lengthy investigation that failed to confirm his claim. But documents obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal Defence Department concerns that, once TC Energy’s construction disturbs the soil of the base, other known toxins from munitions and heavy metal compounds could leach into streams and aquifers, draining into—and polluting—Georgian Bay.

Threats to Species at Risk

The Department of National Defence (DND) warns that the project could devastate approximately 10% of the wildlife at the training centre. This includes up to 30 Species at Risk residing in the proposed project site on the Niagara Escarpment whose habitat could be destroyed or compromised, both from construction activity and the displacement of 375 acres of Niagara Escarpment to create the reservoir.

Butternut Tree
Tri-Coloured Bat
Western Chorus Frog


The project has been pitched by TCE as “a reliable, powerful climate solution” and a major contribution to greening Ontario’s grid. Who wouldn’t be in favour of those goals? Certainly, we at Save Georgian Bay are keenly committed to seeing the climate emergency addressed urgently and effectively.  

But we also see TCE’s environmental claims for this project as hollow hype —an exercise in corporate greenwashing by a fossil fuel giant so desperate to rebrand itself that it is currently in the process of splitting the company in two. The pumped storage project will, in fact, consume 30 percent more electricity to operate than it can store and produce. And during its approximate four-year construction phase, it could create an estimated 500,000-tonne increase in CO2 levels, as well as releasing other airborne contaminants into the atmosphere. 

Why it Makes No Economic Sense

The project’s exorbitant price tag is major cause for concern. Despite findings from Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) that the project does not economically compare favorably to existing non-emitting resources, Energy Minister Todd Smith is determined to push it forward, burdening Ontarians with significant financial and environmental costs.

The price tag on this risky megaproject has already skyrocketed from $2.2 billion in 2019 to $4.5 billion last year, and TC Energy has now agreed to cap it at $7 billion. If the Ontario government hands the company the long-term electricity contract it seeks, all provincial electricity ratepayers will be on the hook for underwriting the costs of this possible white elephant for years to come.

In addition, Energy Minister Todd Smith has agreed Ontario taxpayers will pick up TCE’s pre-construction expenses, despite the fact that the project was neither solicited nor subject to a public competition. In his instructions to the IESO, the minister suggested TC Energy could apply for assistance in recouping those outlays from the federal government, meaning all Canadian taxpayers could end up footing that part of the bill.

What Are the Alternatives?

Save Georgian Bay understands the need for more renewable electricity sources—and storage—to meet Ontario’s growing energy demands. But we do not believe TC Energy’s proposed Pumped Storage Project is the best or most cost-effective storage solution. The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which manages Ontario’s grid, appears to agree. In a September 2023 report to the Minister of Energy, the IESO concluded that the project has been overtaken by newer, more efficient and less environmentally invasive technologies such as long-duration battery storage. In fact, while the IESO has twice declined to endorse TC Energy’s pumped storage scheme, concluding that it fails to provide a clear economic benefit for ratepayers, the agency has awarded contracts to at least eight battery storage projects. The largest is the Oneida Battery Storage farm, currently under construction on 10 acres in Ohsweken, Ontario—co-owned by the Six Nations of the Grand River—and scheduled to be operational next year. Five of the other seven are also 50-percent partnerships with First Nations.

Battery storage projects not only take less time to build, they are more energy efficient. TC Energy admits that its pumped storage project will require 30 percent more electricity to pump water up the escarpment to its reservoir than it can generate—a 70 percent efficiency rate. Battery storage boasts an 80-95 percent round-trip efficiency rate, meaning less electricity is wasted.

TC Energy’s project is slated for a 500-acre site, but battery installations require far less land—and no access to a natural water source such as Georgian Bay. They can be built at more locations, closer to electricity-hungry markets like Toronto, reducing the need for such long transmission corridors. In the past, TC Energy has criticized battery storage technology in promoting its Meaford pumped storage scheme, but the company is now building its own 81-megawatt battery storage project near Okotoks, Alberta.

Wind and Solar
Electric Vehicle
Battery Storage