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Battery energy storage system sites not supported by council

By Sharon Harrison
Council does not support the development, construction and operation of two battery energy storage systems (BESS) along Mowbray Road in Athol.

At Tuesday’s special meeting, council considered a staff report by the operations department which provided a high-level review of the proposed systems.

Going against staff’s recommendation for council to approve the municipal support resolution for the proposed Abundant Solar Energy project (a requirement by the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO)), the recorded vote lost 8-5.

“The risks are not outweighed by the benefits of this project, so I will not be supporting it,” said Athol councillor Sam Branderhorst.

South Marysburgh councillor John Hirsch concurred.

“Having heard all of comments from audience, the correspondence we have received, I find myself remarkably in agreement with virtually every objection that has been raised by the public,” said Hirsch. “We just don’t have adequate information at this point, and have too many safety concerns, environmental concerns, and I just can’t support this.”

Mayor Steve Ferguson said he was not prepared to take the risk without having more knowledge about the technology and the potential threats.

“The staff report is terrific, but there are limitations in the amount of knowledge, and I think we are being put into a position of making a decision about technology we are not fully educated on,” said Ferguson.

In the recorded vote, the five who voted in favour of Athol BESS were councillors Phil St-Jean, David Harrison, Roy Pennell, Janice Maynard, and Brad Nieman.

Council’s decision followed a deputation by the proponents, Solar Flow-Through Funds and Abundant Solar Energy, as well as half a dozen comments from the audience.

Had council supported the project, it would not have guaranteed the County would be offered either or both contracts by the IESO for these proposed sites. Municipal support is required for any new power generation proposals due to the Green Energy Repeal Act in 2018 which restored siting authority under the Planning Act over proposed projects. Energy Minister Todd Smith has asked the IESO to be clear that municipal council support is required for the approval of projects.

“This resolution’s sole purpose is to enable the proponent to receive rated criteria points to satisfy its obligations under any awarded contract,” noted Albert Paschkowiak, environmental services and sustainability supervisor, in the report to council.

The two projects, located at 500 Mowbray Road and 493 Mowbray Road, would each contain three megawatts capacity, with a 12 megawatt per hour capacity that would have a direct connection to the local electricity grid.

In his deputation to council, Andrew Van Doorn, COO and head engineer of Abundant Solar Energy, expanded on previously raised questions surrounding standards, fire protection, and specifically technology-to-safety aspects, insurance, benefits to community, and the requirements for a municipal support resolution.

Councillor David Harrison asked if there was a plan to put a dike around the site at the design of the project, so there is total containment.

“It is not usually standard and not done on these systems, but it can be done,” said Van Doorn. “As part of the concrete slab that supports the containers, a dike system or retention system can be installed to retain any run-off potential, can be considered.”

Harrison also asked what long-term contracts with local businesses there might be.

“We will hire the local construction companies as much as possible,” explained Tracy Zheng, Abundant Solar Energy CAO. “Then after commercial operation, we will hire the local electricians and technicians to perform for operation of maintenance for the duration of whole contract term of 22 years.”

She noted when it comes to insurance, each BESS site will have insurance to cover “all risks”, including property insurance, including equipment breakdown, commercial general liability (typically $10–15 million), and environmental impairment liability (typically $5 million).

“But we understand it is not 100 per cent risk-free,” added Zheng.

In talking about the key benefits to community, she noted how the system will enhance the electricity reliability for the local grid, ultimately reducing chances of local outages.

“Each system can discharge to the grid for eight continuous hours, so that will significantly enhance the reliability of the local grid, and can power about 2,000 homes for four continuous hours for one system,” Zheng said.

Each of the proposed facilities would occupy a footprint of 0.15 acres within a 0.2 acre fenced area comprising containerized units housing batteries, inverters, fire suppression and extinguishment, and HVAC systems.

Audience member Ross Gower, an administrator of an online community group on the County’s BESS projects, shared some concerns that continue to be raised by community members.

“While there are considerable differences between the Picton BESS and this project, people continue to worry about community safety and environmental impact that could result in a worst-case scenario fire, even at this smaller scale.”

He said some community members were hoping the staff report would detail how the fire department would attempt a worst-case scenario, and how the issue of water sourcing for such an event might be resolved.

“We did not see that, to my knowledge,” said Gower.

He also noted disappointment that alternatives to lithium ion-based forms of energy storage technologies were not discussed in the staff report, where he said he was hoping to hear about different types of storage.

“Another issue that was raised again was the potential for expansion and setting a future precedent for similar projects.”

Audience member and Athol resident, Debra Marshall, also stated objections to the BESS project, including fire protection costs, council having to fund the service with equipment and training, among them.

“I caution council to not embrace this project just because it will provide some standby power locally if needed; that one feature does not provide sufficient benefits to mitigate the potential downsides,” said Marshall.

She noted one of her major downsides is location as the staff report mentions the drainage swales and unnamed creeks will empty into East Lake.

“Not only is East Lake a water source for many residents, but it is the home to wildlife –many identified as species-at-risk, and threatened- and it is also a key component to one of the County’s largest economic driver’s, which is tourism.”

Marshall asked what the significance of an approval of this project was.

“Will it open the door to a myriad of other BESS projects scattered through Prince Edward County requiring only the same level of due diligence as being provided tonight?”

She noted that the staff report states that, “a detailed review of the merits of the technology were not included in the scope of this report as it is not within the expertise of staff to assess this technology”.

Audience member and Athol resident Patricia Gayle shared concerns about the potential for unintended consequences to the environment, wildlife and quality of life for residents.

“There are still too many unknowns regarding this proposal,” said Gayle. “Council and the public should not fall in love with the Mowbray Road project just because they are smaller [than the Picton BESS project] and will provide stand-by power locally, if needed,” she said. “That one feature does not provide enough benefits to mitigate potential downsides.”

She said, in the event of an accident, such as a fire, there are potentially devastating impacts on the environment, East Lake, wildlife in the area, years-long harm to wells and aquifers, and lasting impacts to the surrounding ground which children and pets play, people garden and live their lives.”

Councillor Brad Nieman asked if council would be able to see the final version of the site plan before it gets approved, given the staff report notes since it is under delegated authority to staff, it won’t come back to council.

“The site plan approval process will occur, and the proposal will be distributed for comment to council and the public before it gets approved,” confirmed Paschkowiak.

Van Doorn also told council Abundant consulted with the fire chief and department since the last meeting.

“The initial feedback from our meeting was no concerns were raised. It was favourable in terms of the standardized layers of protection, which conform to most fire mitigation and protection measures,” Van Doorn said.

He stated there were seven layers of protection designed into the proposed systems. The first being the design where the batteries are put together in modules, then put together inside containers.

“These modules are isolated into fire resistant areas or compartments inside the container which allows you to contain any kind of thermal event in a worst-case scenario,” explained Van Doorn. “And the worst case there was a fire, it would contain it to a very small area in the container, and not allow it to propagate to any of the other batteries.”

The second layer of protection is the energy management system of the batteries, which he said are monitored for any release of gas or smoke. The third layer, should the first two layers fail, allows each set of batteries to be isolated electrically from the rest of the system, allowing for thermal management, i.e. cooling off of the battery or isolating it.

“This would limit any kind of thermal event to a very small area,” Van Doorn said.

The fourth level would be the ability of the containers to have ‘deflagration’, meaning the louvers on the containers and the doors could swing open to allow for dissipation of any gas, which he said is normal during battery charging, and happens to all batteries.

“It’s managed and kept at levels deemed safe, and if they were to increase inside the container, this fourth layer of protection would allow for it not to become a situation.”

In terms of fire suppression, he said in the worst case scenario if all four layers were to fail, an aerosol-based generator would suppress any fire.

“Ultimately, if that were to fail, there is also a dry pipe that can be activated which would be a container wide solution extinguishing the entire container.”

Lastly is the monitoring of these systems where he explained monitoring is 24 hours a day, seven days a week which covers performance, mechanical, temperature, and electrical characteristics.

“As soon as something were to overheat, a thermal event, that would be caught and with the other layers monitored and controlled, and mitigated.”.

Van Doorn also noted the choice of technology where he said they had been specifically requested to adopt lithium phosphate batteries which are more resistant to thermal runaway.

Council opposes largest battery energy storage system; will consider staff report on smaller sites

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  1. Dee says:

    If you read the staff report that recommended the project you will remember that the reports stated that “A detailed review of the merits of the technology was not included in the scope of this report, as it is not within the expertise of staff to assess this technology.” and were unable to provide a fulsome review of impacts at this time as the final design of the facility was not yet avaiable.

    Under the new planning act, this council meeting would have been the last time council would have had the opportunity to make a decision on this project as all site plan decisions are made by staff.

    I think it was the right decsion for council to make in this case, given the lack of information that would have allowed them to conduct the due diligence required.

    BESS will likely continue to come forward, however, perhaps rather than rushing to meet the proponent’s application deadline with the province.

    As to being frowned on by the province next time we visit…I don’t think this will make a difference. The province can change its direction on the turn of a dime and have.

    As to 5 councillors being forward thinking….I beleive it is the other 8 who hold that position.

    Remember the quick decisions about the CHerry Valley bumps and even the first decisions about StAs. Council had to go back, spend more $(staff time included) to rectify .

    Perhaps having fullsome data to make a decision rather than jumping on the bankwagon to be seen as a “leader”

  2. Chuck says:

    So we can never be on the hook for fire protection for any future project in the County. Wonder why we do not have any light industry jobs creating life enhancement. Further our Fire Dep’t did not object to this green proposal.

  3. Teena says:

    I’m pretty sure this is prime agricultural land, and if so, this is not an appropriate use for it. Perhaps the County has land available that would better suit this project? And no, we shouldn’t be completely “on the hook” for fire services for this business.

  4. Gary says:

    The County will regret this decision from a Provincial perspective as we strive to create a more green energy source. The next time we go to the Province hat in hand we may very well be frowned upon.

  5. Bonnie Saveall says:

    As a resident of Mowbray Road, I am pleased that Council has made this decision. Thanks to those who truly believed that not enough information was available at this time to go forward!
    Bonnie Saveall

  6. CountyProud says:

    I believe Council made the right decision, at least at this point in time. Putting the potential risks to one side for a moment, there was a giant lack of information on several key impacts of this proposal. The Municipality would be responsible for the entire cost to our Fire Services for equipment, training, resources, personnel etc for 22 YEARS in case there was an accident. For what? – so 2000 homes could have power for 4 hours. This doesn’t appear to be a fiscally sound decision.

    I believe Council realized that at this time, Planning Staff and Councillors did not have enough information (or expertise) to make a sound decision and did not want to rush to meet someone else’s deadline.

  7. Chuck says:

    This was a missed opportunity. One can panic and find minimal risk in almost any new development. We had an opportunity to be a leader and have local access to stored power in case of a hydro outage. At least 5 Councilors demonstrated forward thinking.

  8. David Thomas says:

    There are risks to everything – energy storage included. How exactly are we going to transition to green energy if we can’t store it?

    Not loving the county vibe these days.

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