The Financial Post, December 14, 2015
BRINSTON, ONT. • Jason Cardinal fiddles with his baseball cap, leans back on the wall and mockingly counts his gripes with the latest energy project imposed on his eastern Ontario township.
“It’s an eyesore, it disturbs their cows, kills their birds and makes whistling sounds, blah, blah, blah,” he deadpans.
Cardinal lives near Brinston, a tiny agricultural community in the municipality of South Dundas roughly 70 kilometres south of Ottawa, where TransCanada Corp. last week hosted an open house for its proposed Energy East crude oil pipeline.
Cardinal and his friends Lloya Sprague and Mike Vanallen are more vocal about the wind turbines installed in the South Dundas municipality than the Energy East proposal. The 30-megawatt South Branch Wind Farm installed by Madrid-based EDP Renewables Canada Ltd., connected to utility distributor Hydro One, is part of Ontario government’s Green Energy Act plan to raise the contribution of renewable sources in the province’s energy mix.
The three firefighters serving the community were at the open house not representing the South Dundas fire department, but “were interested as a person” in the Energy East project, says Sprague.
But it’s not the $12 billion proposal to reverse the existing natural gas pipeline and convert it to take bitumen from Western Canada to East Coast that has Cardinal uneasy.
TransCanada Corp.’s 4,600-kilometre crude oil pipeline proposal aims to connect Hardisty, Alta. to a brand new export terminal in Saint John, N.B., connecting the oilsands to eastern refineries, and crossing hundreds of rural areas such as South Dundas along the route.
The 1.1 million barrels per day project was submitted to the National Energy Board last year, but the Calgary-based company will file an amendment to the application before the end of the year after scrapping plans for a marine terminal in Quebec.
The plan involves repurposing an existing 3,000-kilometre natural gas pipeline that runs from Alberta to Ontario with the Iroquois pump station 12.4 kilometres from Brinston marking the end of that line. As such, most landowners along the line are already familiar with the concept of a fossil fuel conduit running through their backyards.
TransCanada has been holding these open houses across Canada since 2013, as part of it community engagement agenda, but not each event has gone as quietly as Brinston. TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce says there have been protests at some of the 116 open houses the company has hosted, while general protests have not been uncommon. In May, hundreds of people marched through Red Head, N.B. to protest the project that ends near that community. Montreal, Kenora and Thunder Bay have also seen protests against the pipeline over the past year.
But it’s hard to find any opposition on this night in Brinston.
Famous for Caldwell towels and Mcintosh apples in nearby Dundela, South Dundas is primarily a town focused on growing soyabean, corn and dairy farming, where residents are more likely to be rattled by solar farms and wind turbines.
South Dundas mayor Evonne Delegrade says she has heard “nothing” on Energy East from her 33 communities that make up the township of roughly 11,000 people. Indeed, the 24 or people who showed up last Monday evening, many with children in tow, were there mostly out of curiosity about, not in opposition to, the pipeline project.
In contrast, Delegrade got an earful from the community last year when 10 wind turbines were installed after approval from the provincial government.
“For the wind turbines, we are not a supporting municipality in that the majority of council did not agree with the Green Energy Act,” Delegrade said, noting that an expansion of the project was voted down by her council.
Once it’s done [with construction], you will never hear about it again
While the Ontario Ministry of Energy is supportive of wind projects, “that’s not happening, to my knowledge, with this (Energy East) project,” Mayor Delegarde says.
Ontarians are paying a price for the Ministry of Energy’s push for wind turbines and solar farm projects, she says. “And this (Energy East) isn’t going to nickel and dime or add any taxes to our residents.”
Indeed, the province has come under sharp criticism for its zeal in pursuing expensive renewable energy projects. In a report this month, the provincial auditor general estimated that the Liberal Government’s decision to ignore its own planning process would cost electricity customers as much as $9.2 billion more for new wind and solar projects.
The wind turbines looming large over the community is part of its problem, says Sprague, noting that in contrast Energy East would be “out of sight, out of mind.”
“Once it’s done [with construction], you will never hear about it again,” says Vanallen.
The latest round of “safety and emergency response days” has taken TransCanada to Prairie cities and towns in Ontario and Quebec. More are planned in Quebec before the end of the year where TransCanada may find a more frosty reception. Unlike much of Ontario, Quebec towns will see new pipes being laid and farmers largely unaccustomed to dealing with pipeline companies. In November, Premier Philippe Couillard sounded an early alarm by noting that the scrapping off the Quebec marine terminal would “complicate” the project’s approval by the province.
To be sure, the criticism is not as vitriolic as it often was during TransCanada’s own Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline campaigns.
Indeed, last year, the Northwestern Ontario Municipalities Association (NOMA), comprising districts of Kenora, Rainy River and Thunder Bay that make up two-third of the province’s land mass, voted in support of the conversion of natural gas pipelines for the Energy East project.
“The majority of the community is fine with the conversion as long as the safeguards are put in place,” says David Canfield, mayor of Kenora and president of NOMA.
“But if they were trying to pull a wool over our eyes, as the saying goes, with Energy East, I will be the first one to come down on them,” Canfield adds. “So far they have been very open to our concerns.”
Fearing a repeat of a crude-laden train exploding as happened at Lac Megantic, Que., the municipality association’s largely symbolic vote was driven by a desire to rid the communities of 32,000 petroleum laden rail cars that regularly roll through the towns each year.
“Those tracks don’t bypass the communities — in most cases they go straight through,” said Iain Angus, a member of the Thunder Bay Council and member of NOMA council.
NOMA is also seeking assurances from TransCanada that the communities’ drinking water and hunting and recreational facilities will be protected.
“If things happen that we didn’t like, we would modify our position,” Angus said in a phone interview.
While the umbrella association is in agreement, the city of Thunder Bay, the most populous municipality in Northwestern Ontario, is divided on the project, with mayor Keith Hobbs “totally opposed” to the pipeline. Another council member was not convinced that the pipeline would reduce crude-by-rail traffic.
“At this juncture, [I’m] totally opposed to this pipeline,” Hobbs said in September, according to a CBC report. “Lake Superior, to me, is more important than any jobs. I want jobs in this city, but water comes first. Water is life.”
In September, the city council agreed to delay a vote on the pipeline after Angus — who supports Energy East — put forward a motion to defer it.
“The pipeline is 70 kilometres north of the city,” Angus says dryly. “It’s well outside of our municipal boundaries.”
Separately, a volunteer organization headed by Angus has launched an Energy East task force, seeking National Energy Board funding to do its own consultation with First Nations and the general public.
Awareness of the pipeline will likely rise among communities once the the review process gathers momentum, but for now visitors to Matilda Hall in Brinston are merely intrigued passers-by.
One man from Morrisburg, with a worn-out cap taming his long, graying hair, brought his three young daughters to the event. After spending about 20 minutes in the hall, he stepped out of the centre and lit a cigarette that he had rifled from a small ziploc bag.
A TransCanada employee started explaining the company’s spill response, and the man punctuated his response with a slightly bored “Is that right?” line. Did he get all his concerns addressed, he is asked. He sucks on his cigarette: “Yeah, I wasn’t concerned, just curious.”