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Ontario to reach final decision on TC Energy’s pumped hydro project by end of 2023

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Canadian energy company TC Energy has announced that its 1GW pumped hydro energy storage project in Ontario will soon receive a final evaluation from the Canadian Ministry of Energy.

The project, known officially as ‘Ontario Pumped Storage’, will be built on the Georgian Bay in southern Ontario, and provide 1GW of flexible power by pumping water from the bay to an upper reservoir while demand for electricity is low, and releasing the water back, turning turbines to generate electricity, when demand is high.

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Pumped hydro projects typically have discharge durations of 6-20 hours, though can go even higher.

In this manner, TC Energy is optimistic that the project can help add flexibility to the Ontarian energy grid, and help meet demand for power when it is at its highest.

TC Energy first proposed the project in 2019, and has been waiting for regulatory approval to begin construction since. The company expects the Ministry of Energy to reach a decision by the end of this year, at which point TC Energy will make a final investment decision next year, and begin construction by the end of 2024, should all proceed as expected.

“Ontario Pumped Storage will be a critical component of Ontario’s growing clean economy and will deliver significant benefits and savings to consumers,” said Corey Hessen, executive vice president of TC energy and president of its power and energy solutions.

“We are pleased the government is advancing efforts to recognise the significant role that long duration storage plays, firming resources will become increasingly valuable in supporting a future emission-free electricity system.”

The company’s announcement comes on the heels of the launch of a new plan, dubbed ‘Powering Ontario’s Growth’ by the provincial government. The plan acknowledges that Ontario will likely have to expand its energy grid in the coming years, with the province’s electricity demand increasing year-on-year for the first time since 2005, and the government estimating that phasing out coal and electrifying the province’s energy grid will increase Ontario’s energy demands by 8TWh, to say nothing of the possible impacts on demand of growth in other sectors.

The Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator agrees with this assessment, noting that the province will need up to 15GW of new electricity production by 2035 in order to meet growing demand for power. TC Energy hopes that its pumped storage project will help improve the flexibility and efficiency of the province’s grid, while meeting the decarbonisation goals set out in the province’s growth plan.

“Ontario has attracted billions of dollars in investments from both domestic and international companies over the last two and a half years,” said Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, of the Powering Ontario’s Growth plan. “As our province moves toward an electric future with a strong end-to-end electric vehicle supply chain, there has never been a greater need for clean, affordable energy that companies can rely on. This plan brings us one step closer to being a world-leading energy powerhouse.”

Should it be built and commissioned as expected, the pumped storage project will be TC Energy’s latest energy facility in Canada, following the start of construction work at its solar PV plant in Alberta in October 2022.

Ontario and Alberta are the two leading provinces of Canada for energy storage deployments, as written in a special feature for Vol.35 of PV Tech Power, Solar Media’s quarterly technical journal for the downstream solar industry.

Ontario’s commercial & industrial (C&I) sector has bloomed thanks to high peak demand tariffs incentivising peak shaving battery storage projects, while the grid-scale segment is now starting to kick on with the Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator procuring large-scale projects.

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