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Massive $800-million Natural Gas Power Plant project planned for native land

Online Article ID# 871813: by Susan Gamble

Six Nations architect Brian Porter and city businessman Steve Charest are working on a proposal to bring a massive, $800-million gas-fired power plant to native-owned land in south Brantford.

The proposal calls for an 800 megawatt high-efficiency plant to be built across from the Mohawk Street landfill site on native land that would be leased to the plant backers for at least 30 years.

Porter, who started Guswhenta Developments a few years ago, and Charest, of King and Benton in Brantford, have teamed up with an American company called GenPower to propose the huge power plant.

To accomplish the plan, they need to get approval from Six Nations band and Confederacy councils, confirm their gas, electrical and water sources and allay fears that such a project on native ground won't meet appropriate standards.

"The benefits would be huge," Porter said this week. "It would mean a lot of jobs in design, construction and operation."

In the 28 to 30 months it would take to bring the power plant online, Porter suggests 5,000 man years of work would be needed. Once running, the plant would need only about 50 workers.

According to the plan, gas from Union Gas would come in and be fed into a turbine. The power produced would be sent to a transformer but because the plant would be a 'combined cycle' system, it would then capture the heat from the exhaust of the process and make steam to power additional generators and that power, too, would go to the grid.

Porter says the product would be "100 per cent pre-sold" and there would be no difficulty financing the plan.

Porter, who describes himself as a bridge between the natives and the American firm, has secured conditional support from Six Nations band councillors. A Confederacy spokesman says that council wants more information before it will make any decision. And while some city staff have heard of the proposal, no one has many details.

Porter has also made presentations to the Six Nations clan mothers and the Mohawk Workers, a reserve activist group, explaining the site fits the needs of the power plant "like a glove."

The information is on the Internet, including a picture of where the plant would be built, Porter's presentation to the Confederacy and details of the expected benefits of the proposal.

The plant would sell power to the Ontario grid but would be an independent system - a concept that Ontario has approved since it ensures some power continues to flow if there's a major grid issue. Porter says the lease of the Eagle's Nest tract would provide reasonably priced power to Six Nations and an opportunity for the band to invest in the project.

In addition, the backers are offering a $500,000 a year land lease and another $500,000 a year as a payment in lieu of taxes, along with a chance for Six Nations workers to be employed in the construction and operation of the plant. The backers also are suggesting a multimillion dollar community trust fund that will support native languages.

As an added incentive, the plan calls for a large set of greenhouses where food will be raised for, or to benefit, the Six Nations community. Greenhouses are frequently paired with power plants in order to make use of the surplus of hot water that's created by the system.

Porter has been working since last May, visiting and revisiting the two councils on Six Nations, working to collect letters of support and acknowledgement.

"Brantford is a sweet spot for one of these things," he says.

But there hasn't been much buzz in the city about the idea.

City Mayor Mike Hancock couldn't be reached for comment. John Brown, the city's CAO, said he hadn't heard about the power plant when reached this week.

Terry Spiers, the city's environmental manger, said he knows about the plan for the power plant.

The city is planning its own power plant just across the road at the landfill site to convert the gas given off at the site but its size will be just five megawatts.

In contrast, the Eagle's Nest plant is a "monster" says Spiers.

"It's mind-boggling to think of that size. I think the province only uses 24,000 megawatts so an 800 megawatt project is about four per cent of the entire provincial capacity."

More than that, Spiers said he is concerned about how the plant will draw its water.

But rather than taking water from the Grand River, which would require millions of new gallons to flow through a treatment process, the power plant calls for using the city effluent - treated sewage water - that currently gets dumped back into the river.

"That aspect alone would make it one of the most innovative projects around," says Porter. "We would set a new standard."

Some in the community have expressed concerns about the magnitude of the project.

In a letter to one of the Six Nations weeklies, W. Barry Hill wrote of list of worries ranging from a lack of development guidelines on Six Nations, which means no one is able to weigh the benefits of the project of oversee the building process; water-taking issues; health and safety rules; and environmental standards.

"Is the real reason we are getting this pitch because we have no guidelines?" asked Hill in his letter, calling the project a "white man's power plant."

It's not an uncommon response, says Porter, who has explained the plant would be impossible to run on Six Nations because of a lack of infrastructure and water.

Porter posted an extensive rebuttal to the letter on his website.

He noted that in the absence of Six Nations standards on things like environmental issues, the project would meet all federal and provincial guidelines but would extend itself beyond those.

"I'd like for the authority to come from Six Nations so it would be over and above any kinds of federal and provincial standards. Regardless, there will be some lab that kicks out test results and we plan to be very transparent to the community."

Other projects by the American partner GenPower include a 50 megawatt biomass- and coal-fired boiler in New Hampshire and a 769 megawatt coal-fired generating facility in West Virginia.

Developer Charest says the project is still in the preliminary stages but would be a historic partnership for the city and Six Nations.

"At $800-million it will change the dynamics of the area. This is something that's never been done before and we're working diligently to make it happen."

The next steps call for signing water and gas supply contracts, getting federal land approval and finaliztino an Ontario Power Authority contract. At one point Porter hoped to have the financial closing occur toward the end of 2008 but he said delays have pushed the schedule back somewhat.

Chief Bill Montour didn't return calls for comment on the plan.

Allen MacNaughton, a Mohawk Confederacy chief, says he's watching the proponents of the idea and expects to see a lot of community input before he'll offer an opinion on it.

Porter says everything depends on whether Six Nations will get behind the idea of the plant.

"Unless Six Nations is on side, it's not going to happen. There will be a gas-fired power plant somewhere in Ontario, so it's going to happen with or without us."

"The benefits would be huge. It would mean a lot of jobs in design, construction and operation."

At a Glance

What: A proposal for an enormous $800-million 800 megawatt gas-fired power plant.

Where: The plan calls for the plant to go onto the Eagle's Nest tract, where it would be behind the Woodland Cultural Centre, the Eagle's Nest building and Kanata Village.

When: The proposal is still in the preliminary stages. Plans call for the proponents to spend the year chasing approvals and contracts and it would take at least two years to design and build the plant. Who: Locally the plan is being presented by Brian Porter, of Two Row Architect, and Steve Charest of King and Benton. The American operator involved is GenPower, a 10-year-old Massachusetts power generation company.

Benefits: About 50 local workers would run the plant and up to 5,000 man years would be needed to get it on line. Six Nations would be offered an equity partnership in the company and power generated would be sold to Ontario Power.

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