Risk of fire, contamination of environment, rationale for proposed battery storage facility cited as citizen concerns
January 24, 2023
Prince Edward County’s council voted to reject a proposal for a battery storage facility last week, responding to citizen concerns about safety and risk to the environment.
A Battery Energy Storage System or BESS was proposed by Compass Energy, a 250-megawatt facility that would require 15 acres of land.
Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO currently has a Request for Proposals for new power sources; the IESO is looking for 1,500 megawatts of power which can include new projects such as natural gas or wind, and battery storage. The proviso is that the power must be available immediately, and “can deliver a continuous amount of electricity to a connection point on a distribution system or transmission system for at least four consecutive hours,” according to the IESO website.
The Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County or APPEC* made a presentation to council with their concerns about the proposal.
“When we first became aware of the Picton BESS proposal a few months ago, we thought the scale of the project warranted evaluation,” says APPEC president and County resident Orville Walsh.
“We anticipated that [the proponents’] community meeting in early December would provide many of the project details. That turned out not to be the case. According to the project website, they will only be designing or planning the project after obtaining a contract from the IESO.”
Walsh told Prince Edward County Council that on investigation of available information about the project, APPEC concluded that there is no information on the type of equipment that will be used, battery manufacturer, or other electrical components; no information on the HVAC systems to be utilized; no information on fire detection systems, fire suppression systems and equipment; and no noise studies or estimates of environmental noise, which can be significant.
“We can only imagine the noise that could be generated on a warm summer night by 250 HVAC units,” Walsh told Council.
There are few specifics about this project, Walsh explained, “not a single drawing or illustration that is reflective of the scale of the project.
“Giving support to a project lacking basic information is like buying a pig in a poke,” he said.
Residents of The County were also concerned about the loss of prime agricultural land to the power project, which contravened both the Ontario government’s statements and requirements of the local Official Plan to preserve valuable farmland.
Fire a significant risk
The danger of fire is an “unacceptable risk” from the lithium-ion batteries, say residents. Quoted in a report in the Picton Gazette, resident “Don Wilford spoke to council detailing the environmental devastation that would occur should a fire break out at a 250 megawatt BESS along with the immediate risk to the local population. ‘Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to fires. At the scale proposed, the fire would cause vast damage to wetlands, the toxic gas plume requiring evacuation of Picton only 5 km away and potential loss of firefighters’ lives,’ Wilford stated.”
Others wondered why the Prince Edward County location was chosen as it is not near major population centres, or power generation facilities. (We can tell you: willing landowners, nothing else.)
Company competence in battery storage
Citizens also noted that the proponent had no experience with battery storage facility construction or operation. Resident Don Wilford presented background information about proponent Compass Energy: it is owned by Irving, which in turn is a subsidiary of Icon Infrastructure, a financial investment firm based in the U.K., he said.
“None of these companies have experience with battery storage,” said Wilford. “It appears Ontario is not only ignoring safer zinc battery tech but outsourcing a key component of its electricity infrastructure to financial companies that will outsource the tech to a systems integrator, which will, in turn, repackage lithium-ion units from major suppliers in China.”
It was also noted that the developer admitted there would be “zero” long term employment opportunities for people in Prince Edward County.
Valuable farmland would be lost
Sophiasburgh Councillor Bill Roberts tabled an amendment to deny the request from Compass Energy, listing all the concerns expressed by community members, adding that the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture was also no in favour of the project.
“I’m opposed to the use of prime agricultural land for this purpose,” he said according to the story in the Picton Gazette. “I support the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture in their opposition to non-agricultural development on prime farmland. I hear convincing and alerting information from the audience,” said Roberts.
Roberts repeated the concerns about the risk of fire: “I find the potential fire and contamination risks compelling. Since 2017 there have been 50 such failures including five at large BESS installations. One in Australia required 150 firefighters and four days to extinguish,” decried Roberts. “I don’t get a sense the proponents have the experience to complete and operate such a giant BESS project. I was particularly struck by the IESO’s own connection site identification, wherein at least 166 sites were deemed preferable.”
Roberts amended motion was seconded by councillor John Hirsch and passed by council.
Battery storage proposals are popping up in various locations throughout the province, with varying degrees of success.
Other projects proposed include solar power facilities. One developer put forward a proposal to the council in Sault Ste Marie but declined to tell the elected representatives where the project might actually be located. At another meeting, the proponent claimed full support by local indigenous communities, which turned out not to be true: there had been some conversations including email exchanges, but there had been no formal expression of support.
In the U.S., energy commentator Robert Bryce says that community opposition to large wind and solar power projects is rising; people understand that wind and solar (and now, battery storage) do little to help the environment or alter climate change, but they do have significant environmental impacts, and cause electricity bills to rise. Bryce maintains a database of community rejections of large renewable energy projects.
Comment: frankly, we cannot understand why any company would want to take on the folks in Prince Edward County. They spent more than 10 years, and more than $1.5 million after-tax dollars to defend the County against four wind power projects, all of which would have endangered wildlife, wetlands, and the fragile topography of the area, as well as having a negative impact on tourism, for which the area is rightly famous.
*APPEC is a corporate community group member of Wind Concerns Ontario