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You Can't Eat Energy--Peaker Plant in the Holland Marsh


My name is Avia Eek. My husband, Bill, and I farm in the Holland Marsh. My husband, and many of the farmers in the Holland Marsh are descendants of the first pioneers who broke this land in 1934. Although, it should be noted the first industry here was the harvesting of the marsh grass for mattresses. This business took place from 1880 to approx. 1915, when it peaked.

The soil in the Holland Marsh is organic based, the result of thousands of years of vegetation decay. The Holland Marsh contains huge pockets of peat/muck soils which is a tremendous medium for growing the crops that are produced here, which number more than 40. The soil holds the moisture and nutrients so the plants can grow. It should be noted that this type of soil does not occur everywhere, and it is considered “valuable”. In fact, a recent economic impact study shows that the Holland Marsh, through the business of farming and related activities, contributes more than $500 million to the province of Ontario annually!

The Farmers of the Holland Marsh are a community-minded people, and are ready, able and willing to help those in need whenever the need arises. Whether it’s providing fresh vegetables, together with our time to our local foodbanks regularly, giving our time and resources to family crisis shelters, coaching a sports’ team, or simply helping one another when given the opportunity.

Last year, we found out that a property in the “Salad Bowl”, diagonal to an elementary school, metres from a waterway the Farmers irrigate from, and which feeds into Lake Simcoe, which property is also located in a flood plain, Protected Countryside, Greenbelt, etc. (actually we found out there are 17 pieces of legislation “protecting” the Holland Marsh) was to become the home of a 393 MW, simple cycle, natural gas-fired peaker plant. This facility is designed to run at just 36% efficiency, the emissions from this plant will be the equivalent of 3 tonnes of greenhouse gases every hour when it is running, complete with 18 km of 16” high pressure, industrial gas pipeline. It should be noted that this particular type of facility is a “conflicted use” for this highly productive, sensitive growing area which has the designation of “Specialty Crop Area”.

It is my understanding that there were some information meetings held in September or October (this is a very busy time for Farmers here, so I’m unsure how many Farmers actually even knew the meetings were taking place). I do know that there were 5 or 6 chosen sites for this peaker plant. I also know that residents in those particular areas said “NO” to having the facility in their communities. I find it interesting that one of the sites was to be beside a conservation area in the Bradford area. I understand that 300 + people showed up to that meeting, said no, and that was that. While I realize that conservation areas are very important and should be protected, I would think a highly productive, sensitive food growing area would be given, at least, the same consideration.

So, as promised by the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, a Town Hall meeting was held in February, 2009, after the site was chosen (Fall of 2008—harvest time). The meeting was held in King City with the then Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, George Smitherman, addressing the many Farmers and residents of this area (over 500, I believe). Mr. Smitherman opened the meeting with an announcement that “NIMBY’s would not be tolerated, people wanted to flick a switch and know they had electricity…this peaker plant is going to be built on the chosen site”! So began our fight to continue to be able to grow safe, healthy, local food for the people of Ontario! To date all of our requests for re-consideration have fallen on deaf ears!

I won’t get into all the scientific data regarding the emissions (NOX, GHG, PM2.5, etc) this facility will release from its smoke stacks, or how it will increase respiratory problems for people, since I am not qualified in these areas, but the research is available. What I do know is that the Holland Marsh is located within a bowl, hence the name “Salad Bowl of Ontario”. While this peaker plant facility is not technically within the Holland Marsh, it is meters from it, and within our bowl, emissions have a better chance of being trapped here—that’s just common sense! Here is a website you can visit to see the damage that will occur as a result of the added air pollution http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/01-015.htm . Currently, we have the 400 Highway which runs through the Marsh, this is scheduled for expansion, which will add more air pollution to this sensitive area. The name “peaker” refers to the fact that this facility will provide power at “peak” times i.e. summer, when it’s hot, and winter, when it’s cold. The fact that this facility will be running in “peak” times, when it’s hot and extra power is required, also coincides with the crucial growing period for our crops. Therefore, based on facts, if this peaker plant facility is allowed to be built in this area, it will cause additional challenges (air pollution which will affect crop yields) and undue hardship to our Farmers, who are already struggling to compete with a global market.

According to the proponent, the emissions from the peaker plant fall within the acceptable parameters for air quality. I question the “acceptable parameters”, since, I believe the “standard” data used for testing air quality is the air shed at Pearson International Airport. I’m pretty sure that if the air shed where this facility is slated to be built, and not by the 400 either, was to be tested independently, the findings would be quite different, and not so “acceptable”! As well, the soil data that was used was based on mineral soils, not organic soils—again the proper testing should be done to see exactly how the emissions from this peaker plant will affect our organic soil!

Holland Marsh Farmers adhere to strict rules and regulations to ensure food safety, as well as to insure a nurturing environment for our crops.. The Farmers here monitor changes in the soil twice a year, tissue samples are taken, and water samples from the canal are also taken on a regular basis. Our crop yields are reported annually—we know what we produce, and we know our environment. Our Farmers attend workshops and implement environmental farm plans on a regular basis, many of us are Local Food Plus certified (which means a 3rd party attends at your farm and assesses your best farm practices).

Over the last several months, while we’ve been fighting the rash decision to build the facility here in the Marsh, I keep hearing the same lame argument from those who are in favour of the project, and/or who stand to gain from this short-sited vision “we need the energy for northern York Region development…”. Something that I find ironic in this statement is THERE ISN’T GOING TO BE ANY DEVELOPMENT IN THE MARSH, it’s a flood plain. The development this facility will supply energy to is north and east of the Marsh for several kilometers. The Marsh isn’t even on the same grid this plant will be supplying peak energy to! Yes we do need energy, but we also need adequate food production—you can’t eat energy! This area is designated for food production, and should remain protected for food production!

When you consider that: 56% of Canada’s prime agricultural farmland is in Ontario; the Holland Marsh is one of 3 micro climates (the other two being in the Niagara Region); organic based soil pockets such as exist in the Holland Marsh do not occur everywhere, and should be treasured and protected; the population is increasing and we will require MORE food production, not less—then the decision to build a peaker plant in the Holland Marsh, on a flood plain no less just becomes irresponsible.

I believe Mr. McGinty, and the Energy Minister (temporarily) Mr. Phillips have an obligation to the people of Ontario to rescind the directive to build this industrial facility in the Holland Marsh. I extend an invitation to these individuals to meet with us and discuss this project, before it’s too late. The proponent has already made reference to the fact they will be proceeding to the OMB with this matter.

There is a petition at www.gpo.ca that you can sign which will be forwarded to the Minister of the Environment.

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Comment by OntAG Admin on December 19, 2009 at 6:16am
Good luck Avia, we will help get the message out.

The Farms.com team.

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