All Buffer Zone News

July 24, 2011 Toronto Star (San Grewal) -- Why is a controversial power plant planned for the Toronto-Mississauga border already under construction? That's the question residents are asking after their protests drew a pledge from the province to review its approval — a move they're now calling a campaign stunt.

A public meeting with Eastern Power Ltd., the company that's building it, is slated for this Thursday, and opponents are vowing to turn out in force even though the meeting room planned for it is limited to 50 people.

"Even if it's the evening before the long weekend," leader Greg Rohn says, "we'll have a lot of people there."

Premier Dalton McGuinty announced last month that the environment ministry would take a second look at the certificate of approval it issued in 2008 that allows Eastern to build a 280-megawatt gas-fired generating facility just west of Sherway Gardens mall.

"There's never a wrong time to do the right thing, and that's what we'll do," McGuinty said.

So if the plan is being reviewed, Rohn wonders, why is construction proceeding?

"The review is nothing more than lip service, empty words," says the interim chair of CHiP (Coalition of Homeowners for Intelligent Power), which represents about 14,000 homeowners in Mississauga and Etobicoke. He believes the pledge was a tactic to keep the plant from becoming a thorny campaign issue for the area's Liberal MPPs ahead of October's provincial election.

After a long period of inactivity at the site, Mississauga issued a building permit at the end of May, prompting nearby residents to pressure Queen's Park for a review.

They had reason to hope: Facing fierce community pressure, the government last fall scrapped a larger plant planned for an Oakville site just 16 kilometres away because the "supply picture" had changed, and an environmental task force deemed the airshed too polluted. At the time, a source told the Star the decision would cost the province about $1 billion to settle with TransCanada, the company set to build it — and construction had not even begun.

In announcing the review of the Mississauga plans last month, Environment Minister John Wilkinson said the ministry would look at what has changed in the intervening time, citing the presence of new highrise residential buildings in the area as one factor.

Rohn says local Liberal MPPs, including Labour Minister Charles Sousa, Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten and former energy minister Donna Cansfield, will not get his group's support if they don't pay attention to concerns about the generating plant.

"We have started to really organize around this issue," Rohn says, claiming that Cansfield and Broten "have ignored us."

"I am getting hundreds of calls and emails from residents who think this plant shouldn't be built right next to a hospital (Trillium's ambulatory centre), a mall, schools and residential developments. If the government wants to play games . . . then we'll use our clout in the election.

Cansfield is on record as saying the plant should not be built "while there is any question as to its safety or necessity."

An environment ministry spokesperson said construction has begun because "it's too early to speculate on what the outcome of the review might be." Asked if the review could lead to the plant being scrapped, the spokesperson said it's "too early to speculate."

No date was given for when the review will be completed.

The spokesperson said Eastern was informed of the review, is cooperating, has a building permit and chose to start construction.

In a statement, Eastern Power said what it calls the Greenfield South Power Project "is a committed part of Ontario's plan to phase out all of its coal fired electricity generation. The project's use of only clean, natural gas — the same fuel that is used to heat most people's homes — will enable cleaner air for all Ontarians."

Eastern won the contract to build the plant after the government issued a request for proposals in 2005. The City of Mississauga tried to use zoning regulations to stop the project, but the Ontario Municipal Board overruled that opposition in 2007.

Critics of the province's handling of the issue point out that, with construction now underway, it could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions to settle with Eastern if the plan is scrapped.