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Public expresses concerns about proposed battery energy storage facility

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

By Sharon Harrison
The message was clear Tuesday evening as local residents expressed significant concerns about a proposed battery storage facility – Picton Energy Storage – for County Road 5 (between Elmbrook Road and Fry Road), just north of Picton.

The BESS (battery energy storage system) was described by the company behind the proposal, Capstone Infrastructure, and meeting hosts Compass Renewable Energy Consulting as the “fastest emerging technology in North America.”

Led by Rishabh Mundhra, a senior consultant with Compass, the two-and-a-half hour session offered a detailed and technical overview for about 70 attendees.

The developers noted the proposal comes as part of a provincial government directive issued (Oct. 7) by MPP Todd Smith, Ontario Minister of Energy to procure new electricity supply resources.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has been directed to acquire 4,000 megawatts of new electricity generation and storage resources in Ontario to meet an expected energy demand growth of over 30 per cent in the next 20 years.

The project would occupy as much as 15 acres of land, currently zoned as agricultural land (prime), presently privately owned, which would be leased for the purpose from the current land owner.

While it was initially indicated the proposed facility would be 300 megawatts in size, the developers confirmed a revised capacity of up to 250 megawatts.

The County Road 5 proposed facility is anticipated to be one of three such facilities proposed in Prince Edward County by two separate companies.

The developer noted the Picton site was selected due to its proximity to the Picton transformer station and the 230 kilovolt power transmission lines.

The Picton BESS project will consist primarily of lithium-ion battery cells connected in stacks and installed inside an enclosed area, to be housed in 40-foot containers resting on concrete pads within a fenced area.

Mundhra stated the batteries are “no different to what can be found in the average smart phone or laptop.”

A 20-foot wide private access road would be built to connect the site to County Road 5.

The enclosed area would also house plant equipment, such as an inverter, a battery management system and a dedicated HVAC unit for ventilation.

“These battery cells are stacked together to create modules and racks which are then stacked to create a battery container,” said Mundhra. “These batteries can help bridge the gap between high and low demand periods, improving the stability and the quality of the grid power, and ultimately reducing the price burden on the consumers in the long run.”

When asked by an audience member if it would be one of the top five largest such facilities in the world, the developer said by the time it was developed and came online in 2025, “it would not be one of the biggest in the world, by any means.”

Public questions covered the size of the site, safety concerns especially about fires, explosion and toxicity; the loss of prime farmland, why the site was chosen and why Prince Edward County specifically was chosen.

Folks also asked about how the project would bring income and jobs into the community, as indicated by the developers, concerns over implementing such new technology, effects from blasting at the nearby cement plant, noise and light pollution, and the environmental impacts and risk.

Audience member Meg Kerr was also concerned with property devaluation in the area and asked if residents would be compensated, to which Jonathan Cheszes from the development team said there isn’t any data on property devaluation but “We don’t believe there will be any negative value to this project.”

Audience member Bill Peel questioned building on prime farmland. He noted that while the developer indicates they will turn the property back into what it was before, “You can’t ever, ever put prime farmland back after it’s been developed. It is finite commodity, mother nature made it, we don’t have any more of it.”

Cheszes replied “We chose this site for close proximity to infrastructure. We realize it is on agricultural land and we recognize it is a sacrifice.”

Audience member Ross Gower noted Prince Edward County is in the middle of the two biggest cities in Ontario, and far away from the two largest power users.

“If you are pushing power to somewhere far away, it will lose power on its way,” Gower said. “It makes sense to have these facilities, which are quite large, close to larger users.”

The developers noted Ontario is entering a period of emerging electricity system needs driven by increasing residential and commercial demand due to the electrification of the automotive sector, growth of the agriculture sector, the retirement of the Pickering nuclear plant and refurbishment of other nuclear-generating plants, and expiring contracts for existing facilities.

They indicate when Ontario’s electricity grid needs more power, such as on the hottest days of the year, on-demand resources such as energy storage are utilized to support provincial electricity needs thereby preventing rolling blackouts and the like.

In addressing questions why the Picton site was chosen for this project, James Marzotto, associate director of development with Compass Energy noted it is close to the Picton transformer station.

“Picton transformer station and Picton transmission lines have been identified as preferred by the IESO (Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator) and why the site was chosen,” Marzotto said, indicating other factors included the ground mount solar array adjacent to the proposed spot, as well as an existing quarry in industrial use.

He noted the land in question, currently zoned rural 3 allows for quarry, waste site, pit and quarry, public or private cellular and wireless communications tower, water treatment plants, water pumping stations, water storage towers and sewage pumping stations.

Gower added the existing comprehensive zoning bylaw does not mention a battery storage facility can be put there.

Marzotto and Cheszes acknowledged battery storage use is not a permitted use under the existing zoning explaining that “Battery storage projects are not in existing use under any zoning because it’s a new technology, and that’s across the province.”

Joe Guzzi with Dillon Consulting said the municipality takes a balanced look at its agricultural land.

“In its official plan, it permits both agricultural uses and non-agricultural uses; it does permit public and private utility structures to be built on agricultural land,” Guzzi said. “It sets out criteria for allowing this: the overall vision of the municipality is to allow certain facilities in certain locations.”

“Why are you not looking at non-prime farmland to do this if you have some flexibility to move this around?” asked Bob Rogers, former chair of the PEC Agricultural Advisory Committee. “Quite frankly, that really doesn’t fly in the face… non-agricultural development on prime farmland is not currently acceptable in the County.”

Audience member Liz Driver asked if Capstone had purchased the White Pines wind projects and if they were leasing the land, and asked how many parcels of land they had an interest in the County as a result of their acquisition from White Pines.

Cheszes confirmed they have a land lease agreement with the property owner for the development of this project.

“It is not through any acquisition of lease through White Pine; it is Compass who entered into a property lease with the land owner, not Capstone,” Cheszes confirmed, adding Compass has no other land under lease in the County for the purpose of battery storage or other purpose.

Driver noted the existence of transmission lines in South Marysburgh constructed by White Pines which have never been dug up.

“There is no connection with White Pines,” Cheszes reconfirmed, and Megan Hunter with Capstone added, “There is no relation”.

As Driver pursued the question, it was noted there was a previous lease option registered on title through WPD previously, but it expired and was removed from title, according to Capstone’s Robin Clarke.

Audience member Angus Ross asked if there is a blackout, how long will battery support the needs of the people attached to the current grid. Mundhra said 250 megawatts of capacity would supply four hours of support, assuming it was full when the blackout started.

Gower spoke to establishing need for the County and the scope of that need.

“How can you say this makes any sense to put one of the world’s largest BESS projects, which is quite dangerous, it makes absolutely no sense, on class 1 prime agriculture land,” Gower said.

Cheszes said the way these projects work, they are not just serving the immediate customers or power needs in a specific municipality.

“They serve well beyond the existing communities where they are located. It is not just for Prince Edward County, it is the region and that’s what drives the size,” Cheszes said.

Gower said it wasn’t fair for Prince Edward County to shoulder that burden.

Rogers asked about the expected life cycle of the batteries and whether they could be recycled at the end of their life. Mundhra said the batteries had a 20-year lifespan and would be recycled at the end of their life.

The facility is expected to have a lifespan of at least 20 years, with a proposed decommissioning date of 2047.

Typically, BESS sites are located near electricity substations or three-phase power lines to improve overall efficiencies.

Concerns expressed by members of the public also focused on safety issues regarding the stand-alone lithium-ion mass battery storage, with specific concern in the event of a fire, especially since there were residential homes close to the County Road 5 site.

It was noted that fires had occurred in similar sized facilities in Australia and Arizona, requiring hundreds of firefighters to extinguish blazes lasting several days.

Concern was expressed that fire at such a facility here could be catastrophic given the small rural County fire department, which relies on a large volunteer component; the toxins released into air, an evacuation and a radius plan in the event of a disaster, especially given the placement of the Prince Edward Collegiate Institute school.

“I don’t see any evacuation being needed in that area,” said Logan Barrett, Antler Group president, “Evacuations in these situations are very rare.”

In terms of battery safety, the developer’s website says “these BESS do not use lead acid batteries, and therefore do not leak.” It cites mechanical failures include physical damage that could create heat or a fire. Hazards associated with lithium-ion battery energy storage systems are centred on the flammable organic electrolyte and its highly reactive electrodes.

“If the batteries are punctured, there is a risk of electrolytes being exposed to air, which will result in a chemical reaction, leading to thermal runaway and combustion.”

The developer states the infrastructure project will bring significant investment and local benefits, including employment (during construction only), an income stream (to the land owner only), property tax revenue (for the County) and capital spending in the local economy, and environmental benefits.

They say 900,000 hours of highly-skilled sustainable employment in construction, mechanical, electrical and landscaping will be needed during the construction phase of the project.

Also cited was the 2021 official plan which supports alternative energy development.

“Picton BESS will provide up to 4.1 million tonnes of CO2 emission offset for the 20-year life of the project,” Mundhra said.

Ross also asked how much employment the site will provide after it is built, where Cheszes indicated there would be no permanent staff on a full-time basis.

Once constructed, the site will be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a secure remote-monitoring facility, with only scheduled annual site visits.

While the proposal has numerous steps to go through, including various regulatory permits, as well as council approval, if successful, commercial operation could begin as early as 2025. Design, approvals and construction would be anticipated through 2023 and 2024.

This was the first in a series of meetings, where further in-person meetings will continue in the new year, according to the developers.

Kerr asked if the developers would still move forward if council doesn’t support the project.

“It is still too early to tell,” indicated Cheszes. “We can move forward without council support resolution, but we want council support.”

The next step will involve Compass presenting their proposal to the new council in early January 2023 (expected Jan. 10). Members of the public can submit comments in advance or in person, or make a deputation at the Jan. 10 council meeting by contacting the clerk’s office at clerks@pecounty.on.ca.

More information can be found at pictonenergystorage.com, and questions and enquiries can be forwarded directly to info@pictonerenergystorage.com. Notes from Tuesday’s meeting, along with the slides, are to be posted on the website in about one week’s time.

Of note are two other BESS projects proposed for the County, south of Picton, near East Lake in Athol ward at two separate abutting sites at 570 Mowbray Road, and another at Miller Road (east of Thompson Road). These proposed projects are being developed by Abundant Solar Energy.

A public meeting on the Mowbray Road (East Lake) proposed BESS project is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Picton Town Hall, 2 Ross Street

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  1. SS says:

    The link at https://pictonenergystorage.com/ shows that Commercial Operation begins in 2025-2026, and then “Decommissioning” happens in 2047.

    It also says “The Picton BESS Project will use dedicated HVAC systems to remain well-ventilated to keep the batteries at the optimal operating temperature. ”

    Presumably those HVAC systems require energy to run.

    Exactly how much of the “proposed 300 Mega-Watt” energy would be actually contributed to the grid?

    And exactly how much of the contributed energy would benefot County residents, through decreased power bills?

  2. Mark says:

    Sadly we send one third of all food produced as waste to landfills.

  3. Helen Fearman says:

    In the grand scheme of things, FOOD trumps ENERGY when it comes to survival. We need every square inch of farmland we have left.

  4. Todd says:

    Nope. 100% no.

  5. Mike Rodgers says:

    If they need to be near transformer stations then why not in front of the Hydro One transformer station that exists and stack the containers to get the desired compacity. I have seen pictures of such battery banks in other parts of the world that are 10 plus store’s high.

  6. Tom jones says:

    Iithium ion batteries can be unstable, as seen in Tesla car fires and mobile phone fires, the fires are extremely hard to put out and contain . Looking at the ground plan there are a lot of batteries, if one goes perhaps all will fire up which would be catastrophic.

    They have already had a couple of fires in Australia, these batteries should not be close to a population centre

  7. Roland Gillespie says:

    If these BESS projects require an amendment to the Official Plan, why are they wasting our time (and energy lol) when our OP cannot -officially- be amended for two years?

  8. Dee says:

    Mike Rogers: Council has the authroity to say “no amendment” to the Official Plan. We as citizens, have to let them know that we are against the constant amendments to the plan, one which we had great input into. The Official Plan should reflect what is important to the citizens of this county and ba in large it did.

    Now it is up to us to continue to express our interest and support of that plam and hold council to the spirit and intent of its vision.

  9. Mike Rodgers says:

    The offial plan makes me laugh. We the tax payers pay thousands of dollars to have a official plan developed only to have it changed and challenged every time a developer wants something. From Quinte Isles to this and everything in-between. Why have an official plan if you are not going to abide by it.

  10. Mike Barnes says:

    This will be a good test for the new Council and the Official Plan. Prime Ag is supposed to be coveted with lots of references to food security. It failed at stopping the new school going up on prime ag on Talbot, but somehow that never went to Council. The developer here is also rubbing our noses in our own potential uses for Prime Ag RU land – “quarry, waste site, pit and quarry, public or private cellular and wireless communications tower, water treatment plants, water pumping stations, water storage towers and sewage pumping stations”. That is something that needs looking into since as Bill Peel pointed out, it’s a finite commodity, once you do any of those things to land, you can’t get it back. At the very least there will be levelling off of the topsoil, access roads, and utilities required on the land.

    There will always be other priorities – energy, housing, climate … but at what point will food be the top priority? How many times are we going to let our “prime ag” slip away before we realize it’s too late? At the very least, Council needs to differentiate what is Prime Ag and what is allowed. That should be simple, grow food or pasture livestock. Maybe go a bit further and look at top soil loss and chemical use, and reserve for regenerative uses only. If we are going to preserve the best, treat it the best you can for the next generation.

  11. Dee says:

    Answers as to why they did not look at the land at the Lennox/Napanee generation stations were that it is privately owned land….Yes it is owned by Artura which is in fact a wholely owned subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation.

    Given the announcement by Minister of Energy Todd Smith, that the government of Ontario has ordered the procurement of at least 1,500MW and up to 2,500MW of energy storage, why is the acreage of OPG owned properties not being leased to accomodate BESS, rather than leasing agricultural land close to transformer stations or 3 phase transmission lines in Prince Edward County?

    And with the Ford Government dictatorial mindset, should our Council do the right thing and say NO to applications of this type, will Ford’s minister of Energy Todd Smith rely on the Planning Act’s authorization of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH)(Clarke) to make a minister’s zoning order (MZO) for regulating the use of land, buildings and structures anywhere in Ontario. If there is a conflict between an MZO and a municipal zoning by-law, the MZO prevails.

    Smith remains visibly absent during contraversy or push back from his constituents but is always around for the baby kissing and hand shaking and rode on the bandwagon as the savior of PEC from windturbines, when in fact it was his govt’s mandate to cancel the Wynn program – at an enourmous cost to taxpayers. Do we really believe our elected MPP will be of any assistance in putting forth PEC’s position on BESS to the Ontario government when it is that very government who has mandated these installations? Farmland means nothing to the provincial PCs – bulldoze it, pave it, build on it. Keeping with their recent Bill 23 attack on the environment, heritage and conservation perhaps they can find a wetland to establish a BESS on – the FISH Lake EPA?

  12. CountyProud says:

    Seriously people? On PRIME AG? Why are we even remotely contemplating this?

  13. Teena says:

    15 acres. Prime agricultural land. No. Enough said.

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