Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bala Falls Energy Project: Model for Sustainability?

As a partial resident of Bala, Ontario and admittedly biased, I’ve become familiar with the highly contested Bala Falls Hydro project by Swift River Company that would generate 4.3 MW of power for the province yet would come at a fairly substantial social and economic cost to the town of Bala. The Star and the Globe and Mail have written stories on it.

On the one hand, this project is perceived by many to be a “Green Project” using renewable sources of energy as it would wean Ontario off the need for fossil fuels and nuclear energy (Quebec and BC are highly dependent on hydro for a majority of their power). On the other hand, the impact on the local community of Bala could be devastating. The project is expected to take 2 years to build which would sever the convenient thoroughfare cottagers use to get to and from their cottage. Moreover, the landmark Bala Falls that attract visitors would be all but destroyed not to mention the fact that environmentalists would argue that hydro should not be labeled green because of its disruptive effect on ecosystems. For instance, see the following:

Hydropower doesn't count as clean energy
Hydroelectric power's dirty secret revealed

With already 2 power stations, has Bala contributed enough? Oddly enough, Ontario has so much spare capacity on its grid that it sells a good chunk of its power to the US.

Any thoughts on this? Is hydro considered a green source of energy in your mind? Do we label projects as “green” based on their relative improvement (from coal for example) or more absolute contribution(i.e. whether they support the integrity of ecosystems)? Is this merely a “not in my backyard” scenario or something more? When those favoring the project call this “sustainable”, are they forgetting the social and economic pillars that would be impacted? Should we be concerned that we might be neglecting the demand side of energy, always obsessed with supply? Or is this simply a symbol of a social and economic inevitability for small communities?


  1. Of course energy that comes from water is much more green than that which comes from coal or oil. However, the social and economic impacts on residents in areas where these dams are built are tremendously negative. Why is it ok in our world to uproot thousands, or even millions of people, to build a dam that will supply energy to distant areas. Moreover, why is it ok for residents in those areas to continue using energy at high rates of consumption rather than cutting consumption. Perhaps if more people cut their consumption of energy, then these dams wouldn't have to be built. Also, the environment has a natural homeostasis, which dams interrupt. What about the flora and the fauna of these areas. Dams have destroyed ecosystems around the world, sometimes very negatively impacting indigenous peoples who live in the areas. There are a whole host of reasons that I think dams are bad, and these are just a few.


  2. I have sympathy for the town of Bala, its residents and business owners. I would hope that through a full environmental assessment, changes can be made that will accommodate all parties.

    However, in order to have a reliable power supply at the ready to maintain and attract big business, we need diversity. In my opinion, hydro is an excellent source for that diversity. Conservation measures are necessary, but diversity will still be required.

    I believe part of this issue is ‘not in my backyard’, which I have a bit of a problem with, given I've got a nuclear plant 10km from my house. What about the kids at all area schools who need to sign a form each year allowing them to take a special pill locked in the principal’s office should there be a nuclear accident? What about the business owners who can't set up shop on the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario because of the 'plant'?

    Nuclear represents 36% of our power supply. Those who believe damns are bad must realize that the only practical alternative is more nuclear. Imagine we get rid of all damns (25% of our supply). Now we need several new nuclear plants. Imagine further that the next one is built 10km from your own home. The ‘not in my backyard’ outcry will make Bala’s response seem like nothing…and perhaps that is why it will probably should proceed.


  3. Everything comes with its pros and cons. But the benefits of this project including usage of renewable sources of energy and depleting the need for fossil fuels and nuclear energy cannot be ignored.
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