Lots to learn about Battery Storage, says Wind Concerns Ontario

Public doesn’t even know what they are, says one Ontario mayor. What are we missing?

10-MW Shell BESS at Corunna–Sarnia Observer

February 28, 2023

The recent Request for Proposals launched by Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) resulted in interest by companies proposing new Battery Energy Storage Systems or BESS.

BESS is a relatively new technology and is currently being touted as an answer to wind power’s Big Problem of Intermittency (together with its other Big Problems of non-recyclable components and dependency on weather). Some of the proposals submitted were to be attached to existing solar or wind power generation installations.

The wind and solar lobbyist the Canadian Renewable Energy Association or CanREA (formerly CanWEA) actively promotes battery storage as an adjunct to wind power and says battery storage is key to multiplying Canada’s wind power fleet. CanREA has even added “storage” to its corporate banner.

Are we ready? No.

However, even the influential lobbyist points to concerns. First, there is a need to develop technical requirements for connecting and operating battery storage facilities CanREA says in its document, Laying the Foundation: “In many jurisdictions, the technical details may be included in the operating documents of the crown[1]owned utility. However, there are other elements, such as the scope of safety and environmental reviews, that will need legislated descriptions or will need to be included in the regulatory documents of the relevant ministry or government department.” (Page 10)

And, CanREA says, regulating authorities may need to get ready for BESS and develop new competencies: “In most jurisdictions, the mandate and/or rules of the regulating authority (for example the Alberta Utilities Commission) may need to be enhanced. Regulatory authorities will need sufficient expertise to fairly evaluate proposed energy-storage installations.”

Where public meetings, required by the IESO as part of the submission process, took place and were publicized,* it is clear that some communities at least were not completely unaware of the risks posed by BESS.

Prince Edward County citizens actively engaged in review of several BESS proposals, including one for a 250 megawatt installation. Their concerns were so well founded that the municipal council voted against approval of the facility, because of the risk of fire, environmental noise, and loss of valuable farmland.

Concerns were expressed in other communities too, including Arran-Elderslie in Ontario. The Mayor said this about fact-finding on battery storage: “township officials tried to gather information on battery storage projects from provincial agencies and officials while attending a recent Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto, ‘but the information is fairly sparse’, Mayor Marriott told the Sarnia Observer.

“People aren’t even quite aware of what it is,” the mayor added.

We looked and asked

Based on these reports and inquiries from our community group coalition members, Wind Concerns Ontario conducted a review of news about battery storage system incidents, community concerns, and the current regulatory environment in Ontario.

Our conclusions were that there is a lot of work to be done to answer citizen questions and provide reassurance. In specific:

  • Standards needed for emergencies – As BESS technology is relatively new, standards are rapidly changing in response to emergency situations encountered. Even projects developed by companies with extensive battery experience have experienced serious emergency situations.
  • Not enough information – The requirements for submissions to the IESO and to municipalities when requesting support for the project include few, if any, details on the actual project. The process appears to assume that once a company is awarded an IESO contract based largely on price, it will then proceed to develop the real proposal which will be submitted into an undefined permitting process or processes.  Based on information submitted, it is not clear how the IESO will be able to distinguish between proposals with higher prices because they meet high standards for development and those with lower prices because the proposal includes the minimal safety standards.
  • Renewable energy or not? – BESS systems are neither defined as a Renewable Energy project by Regulation 359/09, nor are they included in the list of excluded projects. The intention may be to omit further provincial review of these projects and to proceed directly to the municipal permitting process but this would be a recipe for substantial delay as the building officials in each host municipality (many of which are small rural municipalities) individually develop the expertise needed to assess and approve these projects.
  • Safety regulations? – While Ontario Hydro has defined setbacks from BESS installations to protect their infrastructure, there are no setbacks for BESS installations established in Regulation 359/09 to protect other buildings and activities. Similarly, there are no noise standards for these systems which could create a new enforcement challenge for Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks field staff.
  • Potential for support to be withdrawn – As the submissions to municipalities have included minimal information, there is potential for municipalities to rescind their support resolution once they learn the risks associated with these projects and the municipal resources that will be potentially required to deal with emergency situations.

The IESO is expected to launch another, larger Request for Proposals later this year, and more BESS proposals are likely.

The WCO report is here: BESSreport-Feb21


*IESO requires only that proponents post notice of a public meeting on their project website which begs the question: If people don’t even know about a project, how would they know to go to the site to look for a meeting announcement? For example, Solar Flow Through funds posted notice of a meeting for a proposal in rural Ottawa only on its website. Minutes of the “public” meeting note that NO ONE ATTENDED. How can a meeting be “public” if no one is there? But this is OK with the IESO.

What's your reaction?


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  • Tony Walker
    Posted March 3, 2023 5:32 pm 0Likes

    The following are my comments on the Ottawa BESS. I suspect they are also applicable to most other BESS projects. The comments were originally sent to the Ottawa Landowners group. I hope they are useful:

    I was intrigued (and skeptical) about this project so I looked at their website.

    My apologies if you already know the stuff below.

    The first question I asked was “what is the objective of the project?”

    Curiously, the website does not provide any objective for the project. It does say the project will provide 45 MW and 180 MWh of battery storage, and have an ‘initial’ cost of ~$120 million.

    For anyone not sure, a megawatt (MW) denotes the rate at which power is being produced or consumed. A megawatt-hour (MWh) is the product of the number of megawatts produced and the number of hours it is being produced or consumed. So, for example, 180 MWh will provide 45 MW for four hours or 1 MW for 180 hours.

    The 45 MW rating is the maximum rate at which the facility can absorb or emit power.

    The next question is what does ‘initial’ cost mean? Is this the cost to build the operational 180 MWh facility, or just enough to get started?

    We still don’t have an objective for the project. The website does provide some ‘commitments’:

    Minimal biodiversity impact
    Built on 2 acres of land. What is not mentioned is that the facility will need to be connected to the City’s backbone network which will involve the large pylons that we see crossing the city.

    Minimal traffic when facility is operational
    If this means vehicle traffic, this is true. The downside, of course, is minimal jobs beyond the construction phase.

    Increased electricity supply and reliability
    Not sure how they figure this. If a transformer blows up or a tree falls on a power line, this facility will do nothing to help with that. People will be without power until city crews fix the transformer or power line, just like today. If there is a shortage of electrical power this facility will not be of much help. More below.

    Reduced chance for outages in the network
    Same comment as for the previous claim.

    So what use is this facility? As an adjunct to conventional power (gas, hydro and nuclear) its capacity is so small as to be useless. According to IESO, Ottawa has a peak demand of about 1,800 MW, so an additional 45 MW is barely noticeable.

    So maybe it’s intended to store the abundant power generated by wind and solar and power our homes when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Let’s analyze that.

    Leaving aside the possibility that we will ever have abundant power generated by wind and solar, how useful will this facility be when wind and solar are not producing?

    A general rule of thumb is that a megawatt will power 400 to 1000 homes, depending on the size and power needs of the home. According to the City website, Ottawa has some 451,380 homes, as of mid 2022. So, if there is no power from wind and solar, 180 MWh will power 451,380 homes for about 24 minutes (at 1000 homes per megawatt) or about 10 minutes (at 400 homes per megawatt). And this ignores any power demands from industry and government in the City of Ottawa.
    Sadly, there are quite long periods, averaging 12 hours per day, when solar is not available and wind power is generally minor. We call it ‘night-time’. When we add in industrial and government power demands to household needs, we will be lucky if we get 10 minutes of capacity per night, leaving an average of eleven hours and fifty minutes without any power. So it’s hard to see what we will get for our $120+ millions.

    Of course, if this project is ‘successful’, it could be scaled up to cover the additional eleven hours and fifty minutes at an approximate cost of $8.6 billion plus and an additional 140 acres of land. Good luck with that.

    However, the 45 MW rating implies that the facility cannot supply more than 45 MW at a time. So the maximum number of homes it can supply simultaneously is between 18,000 and 45,000 — somewhere between 4 and 10% of Ottawa’s homes. And, again, we are ignoring any energy demands from industry and government. So the project is useless as a facility to supply Ottawa when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. But it’s also useless as a backup for most power failures that are caused by fallen trees or poles or equipment failure.

    So we are back to the original question: What is the objective of this facility? Perhaps Ottawa or Evolugen (the implementor) could be prevailed on to explain…

    • admin
      Posted March 3, 2023 7:01 pm 0Likes

      Excellent questions. We also learned that the BESS can realistically only take about 60% of its nameplate capacity so again, what is the point?

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