Back to the future in energy production

St. Catharines Standard: March 28, 2008

Niagara has a proud heritage in the production of green power.

That is largely a benefit of the region's geography, but it is also a testament to the vision of those who came before us to harness the energy created by water tumbling off a cliff.

Today, the hydroelectric power produced in Niagara (at the Sir Adam Beck complex in Queenston and at the DeCew plants in St. Catharines) is enough to power more than one million homes year round, and that is expected to increase by 14 per cent once the Niagara tunnel project is complete and more water is sent through the turbines at Sir Adam Beck.

Hydroelectric power produces no emissions and is among the cleanest forms of energy we use, along with solar and wind power.

It is also a renewable form of energy - as long as there is water in the Great Lakes, there will be opportunities to generate electricity at Niagara Falls.

Moving forward into a world more conscious of noxious emissions, it only makes sense that Niagara continue to find ways to take advantage of our natural surroundings to generate even more environmentally-friendly clean power.

Such is the $20-million project ongoing at locks 1, 2 and 3 of the Welland Canal, undertaken by St. Catharines-based Rankin Construction, and a five-megawatt plant that St. Catharines Hydro Generation is planning for Twelve Mile Creek.

Rankin is no stranger to green power, having built windfarms in the Bruce Peninsula and planning one in Wainfleet with Niagara's regional government.

This Welland Canal project is a good use of an old idea. Since the 1930s, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. has been generating the majority of the power it uses from a 6.5-megawatt generating station at the bottom of the flight locks in Thorold.

The three power stations being built by Rankin, which the company will operate on a 25-year lease from the Seaway, will work on the same principle.

The Seaway controls water in its locks by diverting water flows from the canal to weirs, where water spills over the side like a waterfall.

But now that water will flow through turbines - and in this case the turbines are Canadian made in Ottawa.

The generating stations at locks 1 and 2 are expected to be operating by the fall, with the station at lock 3 running next year. Once completed, the three are expected to generate enough energy to power 5,000 homes.

If Ontario were to reduce its coal-fired electricity generation by the same amount, it would reduce Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions by 38,900 tonnes, the equivalent of removing 8,420 cars from the road.

It's no small contribution.

We need more projects like this in a country still striving for a viable plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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