The Regional Municipality of Niagara Hosts an Abundance of Waterpower

By Stephanie Landers, Manager Community Relations and Public Outreach, Ontario Waterpower Association

The Regional Municipality of Niagara (Niagara Region) is located in Southern Ontario, Canada and lies on the west side of the Niagara River, between lakes Ontario and Erie. The Niagara Region is made up of 12 municipalities and is part of the southern end of the ‘Golden Horseshoe’ which is the largest megalopolis in Canada.

Figure 1: Niagara Falls (Aerial View)

As a tourist destination, there is an abundance of activities to choose from, whether it’s a visit to wine country, shopping, casinos, nightlife, outdoor recreation or the famous Niagara Falls, the region has an unending list of things to do.

Those visiting may or may not know that it is also historically linked to Canada’s original renewable energy resource. The vast waterways has provided surrounding communities with a natural supply of waterpower for well over a century.

With some of Canada’s largest waterpower facilities located in Niagara it is one of the many reasons why the Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) hosts its annual conference (Oct 21-23, 2019) in this location. Close to 2,300 megawatts (MW) of electricity is installed in the Niagara Region providing hundreds of thousands of Ontario homes, schools and businesses with affordable and sustainable electricity.

Ontarians are incredibly lucky to have ample water resources right in their backyards. The Niagara Region is no different, providing a beautiful destination with many waterpower facilities which help to keep the power on.

Decew Falls (1898)

Figure 2: DeCew Falls GS

The DeCew Falls Generating Station (GS) is at the base of the Niagara Escarpment and two miles from the City of St. Catharines. In 1886, the transmission of electricity over long distances for commercial purposes was still in the experimental stage.

After numerous surveys and the examination into the physical feasibility of using DeCew Falls, a plan was developed for the generation of electrical energy. As a result of this the Cataract Power Company of Hamilton Ltd. was born, for the purposes of developing and transmitting 56 km (35 miles) to the city of Hamilton. Commissioned in 1898, DeCew GS one of the very first waterpower facilities to be built in Canada and is now owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

Figure 3: Generators Inside DeCew Falls

Decew GS draws water from Lake Erie through the Welland Canal, with a storage reservoir in Lake Gibson. The tail-water is carried downstream in Twelve Mile Creek to Lake Ontario at Port Dalhousie. In 1943 Decew Falls facility #2 was added. The two facilities have a combined total capacity of approximately 165 megawatts (MW). The six generating units (photo to the right) are housed in the long building, which has grown and adapted from the original building over many years.

Sir Adam Beck (1922)

Figure 4: Sir Adam Beck GS

In the early 1900’s the Province of Ontario authorized the construction of the first major publicly owned generating station. Sir Adam Beck No. 1, located in the municipality of Niagara-on-the-Lake was built in 1922 with 417 MWs of capacity, at the time it was the largest hydroelectric generating station in the world.

The facility, also owned by OPG, diverts water from the Niagara and Welland rivers above Niagara Falls which is then released into the lower portion of the Niagara River. Originally called the Queenston-Chippawa Hydroelectric Plant it was renamed after Sir Adam Beck in 1950 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death.

Figure 5: Sir Adam Beck Tunnel Project

Sir Adam Beck was a Canadian politician and waterpower advocate who founded the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. Sir Adam Beck’s Birthday, on June 20th, is now Waterpower Day, an annual celebration to promote waterpower.

Part of the Adam Beck fleet also includes the Sir Adam Beck GS No. 2 and Sir Adam Beck Pumping GS which are both located in the municipality of Niagara Falls. Adam Beck No. 2 contains 16 generators and first produced power in 1954. Combined with the Sir Adam Beck Pumping Station, they provide approximately 1700 MW of capacity to the system. Between 2006 and 2013, Adam Beck No. 2 underwent a major civil engineering project with the addition of an underground water supply tunnel to improve its generation output.

Welland Canal (1932)

Figure 6: Welland Canal Development

The municipality of Niagara-on-the-Lake also hosts the 10 MW Welland Canal GS. The historic Welland Canal system runs through the Niagara region and is an engineering marvel of the early 19th century. It connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie through a series of eight locks, allowing ships to by-pass the 51-m high Niagara Falls. During the original construction of the locks, weirs were built to regulate the water levels. Two of these structures, Locks 1 and 2, were spilling water and the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation recognized that they could convert this in order to generate electricity, eventually developing the 10 MW of waterpower facility.

Dalhousie – Heywood (1989)

Figure 6: Heywood GS

St. Catharines Hydro Generation Inc. owns and operates the 7 MW Heywood GS in Port Dalhousie. Heywood GS was built in 1989 beside an existing control structure formerly owned by Ontario Hydro. This control structure together with two water turbines, form what is called the Heywood GS. The Heywood GS generates electricity utilizing water flowing from the 12 Mile Creek and Martindale pond, itself originating from the Decew GS. This hydro plant produces about 40,000 megawatt hours per year, supplying power to about 2,000 homes.

The amount of waterpower being generated in Niagara is significant, but perhaps surprising is the fact that this region could still develop more waterpower in the future. There are dams, locks and weirs that exist for a multitude of reasons, yet they are not currently used for waterpower. With Ontario’s population projected to grow by 38% over the next 28 years and the need for sustainable low carbon energy solutions, adding waterpower projects to existing infrastructure should play a key role in supporting future electricity needs.