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County keeps battery storage systems out of official plan; will vet case by case

The BESS facility in Victoria, Australia is comparable in size to the BESS that was proposed and defeated for County Road 5, Picton. – Victoria State Government photo

By Sharon Harrison
The County’s official plan is silent on energy storage system facilities specifically, but existing policy indicates that, “the municipality does support compatible alternative energy development”.

Scott Pordham, policy planning coordinator with the municipality pointed that out in his staff report and added that to “promote green energy alternatives, new policies are proposed to permit energy storage systems in industrial parks and the rural designation in accordance with the province’s regulatory framework.”

Policies would also require site plan control approval by the municipality to ensure screening from adjacent uses, the road frontage and require security fencing.

“Energy storage systems are particularly useful in supporting the wide-scale integration of renewable resources, like solar, because they can help smooth out changes in energy output caused by unpredictable weather,” said Pordham.

In the report, an energy storage system refers to a system “capable of supplying electrical energy to local power loads or operating in parallel with a supply authority system or any other power sources, and can include, but are not limited to electrochemical (battery/capacitor), chemical (fuel cell), mechanical (flywheel compressed air/pumped water) or thermal (heated fluids).”

Gary Mooney was one of several members of the public to speak against staff’s recommendation that the official plan be amended to state specific report for energy storage installations in Prince Edward County, where Mooney notes the most common type is BESS (battery energy storage systems).

Mooney suggested it was too soon to include support for such systems in the official plan as the technology is too new.

“It’s likely the proponents will have little or no experience with building and operating a BESS project, and this was certainly the case with the huge project proposed for north of Picton earlier this year,” said Mooney, noting the 18 concerns he submitted to council relating to the BESS project, most of which he said were not addressed, or not adequately addressed, by the proponents.

He said, the risks associated with large lithium-ion battery BESS projects are too great to be managed by a rural community.

“If lithium-ion batteries are being used, the area around the installation will be subject to significant bio-risks for the lifetime of the installation in 20-plus years,” he said. “These fires are exceedingly difficult to extinguish, requiring huge amounts of water and specially-trained personnel, with likely contamination from the run-off.“

Mooney adds that BESS projects are most appropriately located near where the power will be used and where the local infrastructure can adequately measure and manage the safety risks.

“These large projects should be located in or near large cities,” said Mooney, who noted that “while the County may be able to support small projects, it won’t have the ability to adequately manage the risks associated with large projects”.

He added that while the government may mandate energy storage projects, “there may be some opportunity to modify that in terms of size and even in terms of technology”.

“I don’t think we can simply shut the door to energy projects for all times, but we need to come up with projects that are safe for the County that we can manage.”

Councillor Chris Braney stated he also felt it is too soon as there are so many variables.

“I don’t think we should roll over to the province every time they try to mandate something,” said Braney. “We would be doing a better service by taking our time. We have to find the right ones that fit and make sense for the County, I am certainly not in favour of rolling over and giving a carte blanche.”

A member of the public, Ross Gower, voiced concerns specifically about the additional language indicating express support for energy source systems as an amendment to the official plan.

“Not only could this change lead to significant consequences, I also think it’s unnecessary and it’s misaligned with recent decisions of council and the views of many concerned residents.”

Gower said an ESS (energy storage system) would be broadly defined and would include large-scale battery energy storage systems which he noted two such projects were recently rejected.

“I agree with Mr. Pordham, that express language of support for energy storage systems is not required by any legislation; it is not required for our official plan to be consistent with the current, or proposed, provincial policy statement.”

He said express approval for these projects is not a legal requirement.

He further reminded that the province, at this point, is not mandating these, but “they are proposing changes to the provincial policy statement to contemplate them, and to permit them under certain circumstances”.

Another member of the public, Megan Kerr, was also against supporting the official plan amendment regarding energy storage systems, saying it provides “little to no restrictions, and is “alarmingly broad”.

She too, along with Gower, had concerns surrounding the “support” language selected for use in the amendment.

“My concern is if the amendment is approved using that support language, it can potentially be leveraged by a developer and can act as blanket support for these types of projects, meaning council doesn’t have any control over these projects.“

Another member of the public Jyhling Lee said approving the official plan amendment as it relates to energy storage systems would be a “mistake”, reminding that the message from the community has been loud and clear.

“These are not your typical infrastructure or energy projects; they are new, they come with risks and the scale, location and technology differ greatly from project-to-project.”

Councillor Bill Roberts stated the need for a resilient electricity grid going forward, as well as the importance of safe energy storage in this era of climate change.

“We need to recognize the numbers; we had a declining electricity consumption for decades in Ontario, and the demand for electricity is increasing by roughly two per cent every year and will continue to do so, and that demand for electricity is driven by economic growth, and somewhat ironically, decarbonization.”

Roberts said he can’t support language that’s in the BESS reference in the official plan amendment as it stands, noting “insufficient guardrails”.

Roberts put forward six criteria, “made-in-the-County guardrails” as he refers to them that he would like put in the official plan, that includes no energy storage systems be built on prime agricultural land, and that proponents must demonstrate successfully an expertise, and certainly no failures.

He also suggests lithium-ion phosphate batteries, or improved technology, be considered.

“For size, I would recommend an overall footprint of no more than one-fifth of an acre, and that the intended energy storage benefits load to the County.“

Councillor John Hirsch concurred with comments presented by some members of the public and also brought up the use of the word “support” of energy storage installations in the official plan, stating how it would make it “exceptionally difficult for us to turn down another project that came before us”.

“Far better to review these projects as they come along, on a one-by-one basis,” he added.

He also noted the proposed PPS amendment is not mandating this, “it is allowing the energy storage systems; the province is not yet forcing municipalities to implement these”.

Mayor Steve Ferguson said it was his understanding (if the clause in the amendment is rejected) that if a company wants to come forward with a proposed project in the County, they would have to apply for an official plan amendment, which Pordham confirmed.

“We are going to have plenty of opportunity to vet the proponents, so I agree with removal,” said Ferguson.

Resulting was a motion by councillor Braney to remove the clause in the official plan amendment relating to the development of battery energy storage systems, which carried.

As a result, staff will bring back a report to consider what municipal criteria is needed to be met to support future battery energy storage systems.

A further motion by councillor Roy Pennell to refer the official plan amendment back to staff to consider feedback in the meeting, and to direct staff to complete public consultation and bring back a report, failed.

Battery energy storage system sites not supported by council

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

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