Greenhouse operators in Leamington, Ont., simply can’t expand without access to more electricity, says a spokeswoman for the growers.
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The Ontario Energy Board is expected to decide within four months on whether to build a $32-million transformer station and a new $45-million, 13-kilometre transmission.
It is news greenhouse growers and the mayor of Leamington have been anticipating for more than a year.
“This area has been under-serviced, in terms of hydro capacity, for the better part of 20 years. The line is saturated at this point. We need an upgrade for any acreage expansion,” said Justine Taylor, the energy and environment coordinator for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers
Taylor said 600 acres of expansion is projected for Leamington and Kingsville over the next five years. But that’s unlikely to happen without a new station and line.
“As time goes on, growers look for other locations to expand their operations,” she said.
Leamington’s Nature Fresh Farms recently announced it would spend $200 million to expand in the small town of Delta, Ohio. The company actually has a say in utility rates in Ohio, according to a media release. It will eventually create 300 jobs there instead of in Leamington.
Taylor also said growers want to add grow lights to their operations, so they can produce all year.
“Once you add grow lights to move to year-round production, that is a significant electricity drain,” Taylor said.
Taylor said greenhouse owners also want to feed energy back into the grid, too. But that can’t happen either without upgrades.
The current station and line serves Leamington and Kingsville, says Leamington Mayor John Paterson.
"We know it’s near capacity. We need to get an individual line so we can come off that," he said. "Our governments aren’t providing the infrastructure for them to stay here. We need this line here and if you don't bring it down sooner rather than later, we're going to start losing industry."
Essex NDP MPP Taras Natyshak said the upgrade is needed.
“The industry is ready to grow. We know they grow some of the best fruits and vegetables in this area. This is something they know they can enhance. The productivity is there and the market is there, too,” he said.
Hydro One applied for the new station and line in January of last year. The application got full support of the Essex County Council.
The Ontario Energy Board says the construction of both would result in a small increase in the bills of all ratepayers in Ontario. Bills will rise by one tenth of a percent.
If the new station and line are approved, it would take four years to build.