Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Community Hydro Expert Speaks Out

Posted by auroracitizen on July 1, 2009

Local community hydro expert Richard Johnson and key member of STOP sent in the following comment. It is published unchanged. You can also read his Letter of the Week from June 26, 2009 in the Mississauga News on the same subject.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of the AURORA CITIZEN.

Mayor Phyllis Morris and Sue Walmer of MegaWHAT and EAC both apparently drive SUV’s and rumour has it that they may well be sympathetic to the Conservatives as a few photos seem to suggest, which may all be well and fine with the exception that it also seems to fly in the face of the “green” image that they are so diligently trying to portray. So which is it, are they green or are they blue?

Sue Walmer refused to even discuss the power supply issue for three and a half years despite many attempts to engage her and EAC in the important issues being discussed in our community, before she then inexplicably co-authored MegaWHAT’s ridiculously poorly founded position statement that both Mayor Morris and “shadow Mayor” MacEachern also appeared to align with through an obviously preconceived and apparently contrived Council resolution related to the same issue.

Clearly none of them even read, or at the very least understand the environmental assessment studies or the OPA needs analysis related to the local power supply issue before they adopted their hard line stance on these long standing issues.

Mayor Morris refused to permit council to become well informed before any vote was taken on the power supply issue despite the many offers made to educate council by numerous well informed people. None of them even came close to demonstrating an understanding of the issues or the viable alternatives.

For some of us, including the Town of Markham, who spent $750,000 on communications, technical and environmental law experts in Aurora’s defence on these very same power supply issues, it was hard to watch. Mayor Morris, Sue Walmer and Council rejected the need for a critically required gas fired peaking plant to be built anywhere in Northern York Region or the province for that matter; despite the fact that the peaking plant was ironically required in order to incorporate wind or solar power solutions into the power grid as well as to protect our power reliability of Aurora, while at the same time reducing coal fired emissions in the province. Now these same people apparently all support a less environmentally friendly and a more expensive (per kilowatt) diesel powered UPS generator for the Town Hall!

Go figure. It just seems to go from bad to worse all of the time. I have to assume that the thinking may be that if you say you are a well informed defender of the environment or an energy expert enough times some people might actually believe you.

There is certainly no shortage of smoke and mirrors in Aurora at any event. Given the mixed signals being sent it really does make you wonder where they might stand with regards to the need for environmental assessments at all given that to date they seem to have ignored so much professional and well informed input from the likes of the Ontario Power Authority, OEB, IESO, APPrO, power company engineers and environmental assessment experts in any number of areas.

Through their mis-handling of environmental and planning issues locally they have arguably missed a significant opportunity to be constructively engaged in the power planning, environmental assessment and procurement processes. Under their leadership Aurora, the Region and even the province have missed the proverbial boat on smart growth infrastructure planning and sadly King, Mississauga the greater province are now paying a big price as a direct result.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that socio-economic impacts and other environmental concerns are often not addressed when we have so many governments, starting from the local governments upwards, that don’t even seem to care about the facts or the viable options before they adopt their politically expedient stance on any given issue.

It is no surprise to me that the province has passed legislation to allow them to impose power supply infrastructure on unwilling host communities given the clear lack of professional and good faith co-operation we have witnessed from our local municipalities and most notably from Aurora. If I have learned anything in the past five years politics and planning are all about spin, self interest and money at the end of the day, don’t kid yourself.

From my perspective, based on what we know from our local experience, it would be enlightening to know where Mayor Morris, shadow Mayor MacEachern and EAC stand with regards to the Globe & Mail news story quoted below. It sure does make you wonder where we are headed.

Ottawa could waive thousands more environmental assessments, (abbreviated quotes)
Martin Mittelstaedt and Dawn Walton, Toronto, Calgary — From Friday’s Globe and Mail, Friday, Jun. 26, 2009

The number of federally funded infrastructure projects exempted from environmental assessments could soar to nearly 14,000, up from the 2,000 figure the Conservatives announced in March.

The new figure was introduced earlier this week in a Federal Court of Canada case by the Sierra Club of Canada challenging the legality of exemptions. It was based on a disclosure Ottawa made in the Canada Gazette last month indicating that up to an additional 12,000 projects will be approved under the infrastructure program.

The new total suggests the federal cabinet’s decision to limit environmental assessments on infrastructure spending will have far broader effects than was initially thought. The exemption applies to a wide range of projects receiving federal money and includes highway widening, bridges and sewage treatment plants, but also ventures with little or no environmental impacts, such as bike trails and social-housing construction.

“Certainly we were appalled when it was at 2,000 and now we’re at a sevenfold increase. That’s just immense,” said Justin Duncan, a lawyer at Ecojustice, a public interest legal organization that is representing Sierra Club in the case. “Ballooning up to 14,000 certainly provides greater fodder for our case that the federal government is getting out of the [environmental assessment] game.”…

Speaking to reporters in Calgary, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, defended the exemption plan, saying the government “looked at the kinds of projects in the past where environmental assessments had resulted in delay, but not necessarily any improvements and where we felt that duplicative environmental assessments would not be in our best interests.”

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15 Responses to “Community Hydro Expert Speaks Out”

  1. Anonymous said

    All:

    A tip for more effective writing: if you're writing a big long post, try and break it up into smaller paragraphs.

    A massive block of text is hard on the eyes and brain.

  2. Anonymous said

    Robert the Bruce:
    You assumed the "sexist hairdryer" comment was made by a woman.
    Wrong assumption.
    You assumed the "sexist" complaint's focus was a specific appliance, the hairdryer.
    Wrong.
    The comment was sexist in your perceived suggestion that women cannot understand electricity.
    We all perceive the world differently.
    We all have a bias.
    Am I insecure? I suppose, but then most people I know readily acknowledge that feeling insecure goes with being a reflective human being.

  3. Richard Johnson said

    To Tim the Enchanter at 8:46 on July 6th: I agree that the follow chart of communication should work the way you suggest but unfortunately I have learned the hard way that there is the way the world should work verses the way the world does work. Just look at the promises made during any election or during the OPA procurement process in York Region and then check for delivery. Quite honestly, Aurora Council has demonstrated very little understanding or leadership on this issue since the spring of 2004 when the public first became aware of the issue and if it was not for concerned residents and the Town of Markham then no one would have even been aware of this issue until the massive infrastructure was installed and real estate values for hundreds of homes had tanked. The truth is that information has flowed only one way… from me to the town. Feel free to contact the OPA in order to get their take on the issues. I'd suggest calling VP Systems Planning Amir Shalaby or look at their York Region WebPages but keep in mind that there are numerous sides to the story. The OPA should be commended in many respects and they certainly made a valiant, yet unsuccessful effort to work constructively with the town, but the outcome basically confirms that the lowest cost bidder for the gas fired peaking plant won, regardless of the assurances that the OPA tried to give the public about giving greater weight to consultation, public input and mitigation measures in the selection process. I think the OPA became fed up with the lack of co-operation from the municipalities and the pure misinformation being spread by some people, so they just did what they felt was best at the end of the day, to the detriment of King and later to the detriment of Mississauga where this same story is now playing out all over again. Very few people seem to be aware of the leadership role that we could have played in Aurora but we really screwed it up by concentrating more on cloths lines (I'm sure you know that story) and that fact falls squarely at both the Mayor's and the shadow Mayor's feet. Feel free to go to Aurora Power Update.com ( http://www.aurorapowerupdate.com ) for further information, but I think I have said more than enough at this stage to make my point. Please forgive me for being so wordy, but believe it or not I am being brief given what has transpired to date.

  4. Richard Johnson said

    To the July 6th anonymous early bird: I agree that I have to live with the fact that I worked very hard to get Mayor Morris elected, but I am not the first person or the only person to be disappointed as a result of politics. Given that there were lots of shenanigans on the previous council as well, I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that not much may have changed in any event… but that is cold comfort now isn't it ? The funny thing is that I also voted for MPP Greg Sorbara and yet only a few months after he was elected I went with a small and professional delegation to his office with a petition on behalf of hundreds of residents of Aurora. He refused to read any of the material presented, he was gruff and uninterested and he actually informed us in no uncertain terms that he was not our elected representative ! Many of the issues we tried to point out to him were later raised and addressed by the OPA after the fact and after consultation with us, but MPP Sorbara played no constructive role in working with our community. Of course when Vaughan faced very similar power supply issues Minister Sorbara got up in front of 1,200 concerned residents and stated that he was firmly by their side. I can only speculate as to why the constituents in Aurora were treated differently than Vaughan. To say that I have been shocked and disappointed by more than a few politicians along the way is an understatement, but I can also say that I feel that Mayor Morris has taken advantage of me as well as the power supply issue in a way that I find most deplorable. I was lead to expect more and I was clearly mislead. I know exactly what transpired as well as who the players were and that's why I wrote my comments to the Aurora Citizen. I fully appreciate that everyone can make their own call based on the facts as they know them but I'm just telling it like I see it. In the next municipal election I, for one, am voting for change once again.

  5. Tim the Enchanter said

    Mr. Johnson

    Thank you for the further clarification. In my view the problem exists in the expectation that the required information to make an informed decision on this issue will be downloaded from the Province and OPA to Aurora Council and then on to residents. It would also seem that we are depending on Aurora Council to accurately communicate our concerns back to the OPA. Clearly you are frustrated with this process. This is an OPA matter paid for with my provincial taxes and my hydro bill. As an Aurora ratepayer I am concerned about this issue but I think I'd rather have the OPA explain it to me directly and if I don't like what I hear I can voice my complaints directly back to them. If Council helps facilitate that process by holding public forums that's great but there's no need for them to muddy the waters here.

  6. Anonymous said

    Richard,
    You helped these mayors and council get elected.It might be a crowded bed but now you have to sleep with it. Without your help Morris would not have been elected.

  7. Robert the Bruce said

    My apologies for the "blatantly sexist "hairdryer"" comments. It was not my intent to offend the females as a gender or hairdryers as a appliance or anyone at all. I could have used any number of electrical devices to make the point – lights, radios, computers, etc. – but I decided on hairdryer.

    Of course, the device is not only used by women so perhaps the anonymous commenter is being equally "sexist" in her response. This tells me alot about how insecure she is.

    I am sure all members of council have hairdryers in their homes and most of them know not where the power comes from.

    Fuimus

  8. Anonymous said

    Richard Johnson, writes that the whole issue of power supply options is complex and requires "more professional, better informed, more considerate and a more proactive approach from our government. " Given we in Aurora, elect political lightweights with suspect intelligence horsepower such as Granger,Gaertner,and Wilson what do you expect. Add to the mix a Mayor with suspect qualifications, an appointed councillor, and a know it all bully of a councillor who serves as the Mayor's right hand the perfect storm exists.

  9. Anonymous said

    it's not sexist in this situation but accurate. i am female yet feel embarrased when these types stand up to represent our gender – regardless of sex, one should do the homework before stating such strong opinions.

  10. Richard Johnson said

    Tim the Enchanter is correct in that many power supply options have been explored extensively for years, however Aurora has fallen far short of playing a well informed and constructive leadership role along the way. I honesty feel that citizens of Aurora and York Region have every right to expect a lot more from our local government than what has been delivered. Despite being elected in no small part as a direct result of the power supply issue, Mayor Phyllis Morris has demonstrated a lack of awareness and professionalism in dealing with the power supply file that is quite frankly beyond explanation. Millions and millions of dollars and years of effort have been spent by various stakeholders in an effort to address our long standing power supply needs in a responsible and considerate fashion and yet at the end of the day huge amounts of information were just plainly ignored by Aurora Council with no clear or well founded logic being applied to Council's actions. In addition to the dozens of public consultation and private planning meetings and the twenty (plus) Hydro Task Force meetings, a large working group was created by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) in the summer of 2005. Over five full days the working group explored a wide range of alternatives before concluding that a gas fired peaking plant was the least impacting and most cost effective alternative to meet our power supply needs. While Aurora quite noticeably remained virtually silent at the working group meetings, Aurora was also one of the parties that pushed for the newly created OPA to explore all possible alternatives to the initial transmission line solution given the proposed power line's potential negative impact on thousands of residents in Markham, Aurora and Newmarket. Aurora conditionally supported the OPA's working group recommendations only to later frustrate and confuse the OPA's efforts to educate the public and to implement its stated solution. From my perspective it was totally unbelievable how badly Aurora has handled this issue and the impact of our actions could be far reaching. In the end, not only did Aurora continue to oppose overhead transmission but it also rejected the proposed alternative of the peaking plant, without providing a single viable alternative that had not already been explored and ruled out for good reason. Furthermore our Town Council demonstrated that it did not understand the most basic facts including the identified need or the history of the issue and I for one expected a lot more. I will not even go into some of the ethical questions raised or the shenanigans that I have witnessed along the way but suffice it to say that our local government is seriously flawed from my perspective. While unanimous consent is clearly difficult to achieve when dealing with complex issues such as these, I have come to believe that the public deserves a more professional, better informed, more considerate and a more proactive approach from our government. The whole point of my initial posting (if you missed it — my apologies) was that there is a lot of smoke & mirrors at play in our local politics and if the public does not pay more attention to the planning decisions and chipping away of the processes designed to protect our community, including our rights under the Environmental Assessment Act, then we will have to bare the brunt of our collective apathy in the long run.

  11. Anonymous said

    I object to the blatantly sexist "hairdryer" comment from Robert the Bruce.
    Tells me a lot about the "man" and his views on women in power.
    Just another bias declared, methinks.

  12. Anonymous said

    Many sides to this, as other issues.
    Nice to see Sorely toot his horn.
    Just don't happen to agree.

  13. Robert the Bruce said

    I honestly don't think that the co-Mayors and Sue Walmer really know anything about electricity other than they have to plug in their hair dryers to make them work.

    The same group were against the owner of ACI installing windmills on his property to suppliment his power requirements.

    As Chris says, maybe hydro does grow on poles. They really have no idea how their hair dryers are powered and they are simply doing their NIMBY best.

    Fuimus

  14. Tim the Enchanter said

    Mr. Johnson

    You are obviously very passionate about this issue. However, after
    I got the point that you don't like MegaWhat you lost me but with the bits and pieces picked out of the media over the last while I assume we have three viable choices.

    1. natural gas peaker plant
    2. transmission towers
    3. buried cable (more expensive version of option 2)

    All three have pros and cons. All three will have supporters,armed with slide rules and studies, who will in turn warn us the other two options will be disastrous.

    Citizen input is all well and good and I believe a public meeting was held at the Town Hall where the various "fan clubs" were given the opportunity to present their views but the OPA and the Province are responsible for making sure York Region meets the power requirements of the future and will make a decision accordingly.
    No doubt some will disagree with the choice but at least the lights will come on.

  15. C. Sorley (owner of the only commercial solar production business in Aurora) said

    Long, but accurate, unfortunately the Mayors' (both of them) attention will be lost after the first paragraph. Sufficed to say when Power Stream cancelled the funding for the York Youth Environmental Conference in April ( at the last minute ) they turned to the Town of Aurora for financing – a paltry $3,500. Phyllis et al saw fit to do the usual – send the request to staff for a report! The report was never completed because Sorley and Still Barristers and Solicitors stepped up to the plate, provided the funding and saved the staff the work and taxpayers the cost of a report.

    As I have commented in the past, Council thinks hydro grows on poles.

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