Opponents of the Portlands Energy Centre's (PEC) controversial waterfront gas plant are calling PEC's plan to donate an acre of its land to build "Canada's largest solar research park" PR to help residents swallow the fact that a toxic plant will appear in their neighbourhood next year.
"It reminds me of Big Tobacco trying to pass itself off as a health advocate," says Toronto Energy Coalition co-chair Brian McInnis. "Big Tobacco does do some community-based work, but it's really out there to sell cigarettes, and PEC is out to sell electricity. There are 1,700 people dying from respiratory illnesses every year, and no solar park is worth that."
Proponents say the $8 million solar plant will generate up to 1 megawatt of energy, enough to power 1,000 homes. The facility is slated to open in early 2009, about a year after PEC's big plant goes into operation.
Although PEC is donating the land, the proposed centre will be run by solar technology company ARISE and the University of Toronto. The plan is for students to develop photovoltaic systems on a commercial scale.
PEC spokesperson Ted Gruetzner says the community will be able to purchase shares in the research centre, as it does in the Exhibition Place wind turbine project.
Area councillor Paula Fletcher, an opponent of the PEC project, wonders why solar projects aren't being set up at big buildings like the Sheridan Centre or the Bay-Adelaide Centre instead.
"That would be part of a proper green plan," says Fletcher. "That might just be the answer to making sure their lights and computers are running if we start getting brownouts."
Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns says a different location for the centre would make more sense . According to Gruetzner, the site was chosen because it's close to grid hookups and sun exposure is best at the lakefront. But Tabuns says Premier Dalton McGuinty wants the solar project at the PEC site "to make him look greener than he is."
Toronto Environmental Alliance co-executive director Franz Hartmann is none too impressed either. He points out that the province is still spending $40 billion to build and refurbish existing power stations. "This [research centre] is loose change compared to what it's spending on nuclear."