Another Benefit of Hydro: Expanding Waterpower Education in Ontario

Over the past several years, the Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) has invested significant resources, including the addition of a Communications and Public Relations Advisor, toward the education of the public and youth throughout the Canadian province. Through face-to-face educational initiatives, the waterpower industry and water educational partners are growing the public’s knowledge and understanding of hydroelectricity.

In 2012, OWA became an active participant in the Doors Open campaign and began to encourage public outreach and facility tours through its own public outreach campaign. Doors Open is an annual event when buildings of architectural, historic, cultural and social significance open their doors to the public for education and celebration. Every year, Doors Open Ontario attracts large crowds. From April to October, residents and visitors are invited to discover first-hand Ontario’s hidden heritage treasures, some of which have never been open to the public.

A student observes OWA’s renewable energy display, which demonstrates hydro’s place in the larger energy landscape.
A student observes OWA’s renewable energy display, which demonstrates hydro’s place in the larger energy landscape.

The first Doors Open Day that ever took place was in France in 1984. The idea soon spread to neighboring countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and Scotland. In 1991, these events were united as European Heritage Days at the initiative of the Council of Europe. In 2003, all 48 signatory states of the European Cultural Convention participated in European Heritage Days.

In Ontario, in 2000, Toronto launched the first Doors Open event in North America and in 2002 the Ontario Heritage Trust launched Doors Open Ontario, the first province-wide event of its kind in Canada. OWA has participated in Ontario Doors Open for several years, recognizing the natural alignment of historical hydroelectric facilities in Ontario and the public’s interest in seeing inside these historic gems. The Doors Open concept continues to spread across North America, with events now being held in Newfoundland, Alberta, Massachusetts, New York State, New York City and Denver.

In 2014, OWA debuted its renewable energy display during several of the annual Doors Open and public outreach events. Since this debut, the display has been seen and used by thousands of citizens in and around central and eastern Ontario. During special events, the display allows staff to visually and physically demonstrate to the public concepts including:

  • Hydrological cycle and how waterpower technology works
  • How more energy needed means more demand on energy facilities (peak demand)
  • Common renewable energy technologies in Ontario (wind, solar, water)
  • Waterpower’s relationship to other renewable energies
  • Transmission lines and how energy gets to homes/businesses
  • Conservation methods
  • Waterpower energy storage and over-all integrated grid reliability
  • Public safety (signs, buoys and fences)
  • Environmental stewardship

This year, the Children’s Water Education Council (CWEC), working with OWA, introduced a similar display in southern Ontario. CWEC was founded in 2001 and is an organization of industry and education professionals whose goal it is to teach an appreciation for water, primarily through outreach programs and festivals across Ontario.

The Waterloo Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival, in partnership with the Waterloo Region Museum, purchased the water energy model to use at this year’s festival and adapted it to the Niagara escarpment. It will be used as an addition to the water festival activity list, and the museum will use the model in future educational programming.

Crowds line up to see the inside of Hydro Ottawa’s Chaudiere Falls Generating Station No. 2 during Doors Open Ottawa. OWA has supported this event since 2013, averaging about 1,200 attend every year.
Crowds line up to see the inside of Hydro Ottawa’s Chaudiere Falls Generating Station No. 2 during Doors Open Ottawa. OWA has supported this event since 2013, averaging about 1,200 attend every year.

OWA has also been active on the committee of the Peterborough Children’s Water Festival (PCWF),since 2007. For the past 14 years, festival organizers have helped educate more than 19,000 students about water awareness and respect for the environment. PCWF is also preparing to bring the festival to the community through the new Wonders of Water education program. Still in its infancy, the program was launched at the 2016 PCWF to bring the magic and thrill of PCWF right into learning spaces, whether that is classrooms or informal community gatherings.

In addition to its involvement with Doors Open Ontario, CWEC and water festivals, OWA has also expanded waterpower education and awareness by partnering with Skills Ontario’s Technological Skills Competition (OTSC). This annual competition offers a unique opportunity for top students to demonstrate that they are the best of the best in their chosen fields of study by competing in front of educators, family, friends and prospective employers.

This year’s event, which took place in May, drew more than 2,000 elementary, secondary and post-secondary students who competed in 65 areas. Winners are awarded with gold, silver and bronze medals and the opportunity to compete at the Skills Canada National Competition.

OWA has served as a technical co-chair for OTSC’s Green Energy Challenge for the past three years, during which time about 250 students in Grades 7 and 8 from 60 schools have been challenged to build and test working waterpower wheels.

Students in grades 7 and 8 construct and test working waterwheels as part of Skills Ontario’s Technological Skills Competitions Green Energy Challenge.
Students in grades 7 and 8 construct and test working waterwheels as part of Skills Ontario’s Technological Skills Competitions Green Energy Challenge.

OWA has seen firsthand the value in the public touring waterpower facilities – many of them have never seen the inside of a generating plant. Local residents who have lived in the area for the majority of their lives are in awe of what has been in their “backyard” for more than a century.

Special events and partnerships are just a few of the many vehicles OWA is implementing as part of its strategy to build the public’s awareness and understanding of the importance of waterpower. As part of this effort, the association gauges public opinion on energy and environmental issues. Of the individuals surveyed at the Doors Open events, an overwhelming 91% supported waterpower in Ontario.

In the past when OWA has surveyed the Ontario public, support was closer to 60% to 70%, suggesting that when Ontario residents are exposed to waterpower, they are more likely to understand and appreciate it. The results of surveys assist the association in better understanding public opinion and in turn inform future OWA promotion and education efforts.

Working with and supporting public outreach events gives OWA the chance to show the historical aspect of waterpower and how the hydroelectric system built over the previous decades has been central to our economic prosperity. The events show citizens that their communities were built around the power of falling water and, importantly, remind them that the province has significant untapped waterpower potential that, based on the positive feedback received, can make a bigger contribution to Ontario’s energy supply mix.

– By Stephanie Landers, communications and public relations advisor, Ontario Waterpower Association

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