Residents raise concerns over proposed BESS, council defers decision to Nov. 28

Sarah Williams
For the Beaver

The issue of whether Town of Greater Napanee Council will support several battery energy storage (BESS) proposals, and the expansion of Atura Power’s Napanee Generating Station has been left in abeyance with the Nov. 14 Regular Council Meeting having lasted well into the night. During this meeting, council listened to a host of deputations from concerned citizens regarding these potential projects.

Though staff are recommending council support the aforementioned proposals, the issue will be revisited during the Nov. 28 Regular Council Meeting.

The BESS proposal proponents require a resolution of municipal support to proceed with their respective projects. Without this support, these proposals will be unable to come to fruition. The Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO) is currently accepting BESS proposals until Dec. 12.

The BESS proposals in question include: Boralex’ Lennox BESS, EDF Renewables BESS and the Atura Power Napanee Generating Station BESS.

The Lennox BESS is described by municipal staff as having “frontage on Highway 33” and running easterly to County Road 21 where the facility’s transmission line would cross County Road 21 and connect to the existing transmission infrastructure leading from the OPG switchyard running northerly.

The Lennox BESS will be a 400 MW facility occupying approximately 70 hectares of land being leased by local landowners Brian and Julie Windover.

The Bethany BESS put forth by EDF Renewables will be up a 250 MW facility on lands owned by Todd Grant. These lands have frontage on County Road 9 with the project location being due south of 2178 County Road 9.

The third BESS which staff recommended council support is that of Atura Power. This BESS is proposed for lands already owned by Atura being due east of the generating station at 7143 Highway 33. As with the EDF Renewables proposal, this one is slated to be 250 MW.

Resident Howard Hill spoke to council expressing concern regarding Boralex’ Lennox BESS proposal. Hill noted he had collected close to 40 signatures of nearby residents who oppose the project.

At the crux of Hill’s argument against the Boralex proposal is the potential for traffic accidents to occur at the site, given its close proximity to a high traffic area (the ferry route) and being on a blind corner.

He argued tractor trailers accessing the proposed site would need “at least 250 feet of oncoming traffic to make the turn.”

Hill also noted that, for the proponent, this is a private venture and represents “big money”.

I don’t think there’s any need for a private BESS,” said Hill.

The Bethany BESS proposal put forth by EDF Renewables drew the ire of several citizens. One such person was Michael Stockfish, who argued the detriment of this particular BESS outweighed the benefits.

As with Hill, Stockfish collected signatures from nearby residents-an astounding 235 people-who expressed opposition to this proposal.

Ultimately, while Stockfish recognized the role of BESS in “the broader energy strategy” he noted he does not believe County Road 9 is an appropriate sight for such a facility.

From my vantage point, there’s a nominal financial advantage to this BESS, as is the case with the other BESS proposals,” began Stockfish.

His scrutiny included a side-eyed assessment of the community benefit fund of up to $250,000 put forth by EDF Renewables.

They have stressed a commitment of $250,000 in an annual community benefit fund. I stress the key words “up to” because it wasn’t clearly defined what it would take to get it up to that level,” said Stockfish. “All other financial benefit flowing from this project will exclusively benefit the property owner and EDF.”

Other concerns brought forward by Stockfish include noise and light concerns as well as effects on the water table, especially should there be a failure at this BESS.

A fire or leakage would impact groundwater tables, wells, and quality of water in the Bay of Quinte. The area is known for its world-class wall-eye fishing and attracts a significant number of tourists,” stressed Stockfish. “Why would you want to risk this in any way?”

Finally, Stockfish theorized the placement of the Bethany BESS could have a less than desirable impact on surrounding property values.

Olivier St. Cyr, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and homeowner on County Road 9, also spoke against the Bethany BESS, and in doing so, raised concern about the other BESS proposals.

BESS are prone to failures. A database of BESS failure events on the internet has logged over 68 failures since 2011 and 11 of those are just from January 2023 until now,” stated St. Cyr. “This is still technology we’re trying to figure out.”

He emphasized that BESS fires are unlike other fires. Unfortunately, they are known to release toxic chemical fumes into the environment, contaminating both soil and air.

Given the unique nature of these fires, he questioned why a BESS should be positioned 12-15 minutes away from town and emergency services.

Where is the water source to help put out these fires? How can we make sure the site is accessible during all weather conditions?” asked St. Cyr. “Were the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte consulted?”

Getting down to brass tacks, yet another resident, Martha Downey, succinctly expressed opposition to the BESS proposals.

Ecological and human context should lead council to withhold support. Respectively, this context was inadequately studied in a staff report which thus too hastily recommends council provide support for these proposals,” stated Downey. “Council must heed the lessons wrought by recent wildfires, the permanency of air soil and water pollution, and even shameful example of proposed GTA greenbelt development. No need justifies the ecological and human consequences.”

William Colucci, on behalf of EDF Renewables, was on hand to field questions raised by council and respond to comments made during the deputations.

Deputy mayor Brian Calver begged the question, “What makes this project safer than all the other projects you read about on the internet?”

Colucci asserted that, while there are hundreds of BESS projects around the world, “but the ones you hear about are the ones who have incidences.”

Of note, Colucci added that, being a large company, EDF renewables can select tier one manufacturers with the highest safety ratings and standards.

We would dedicate a procurement team solely focusing on the best equipment possible,” he said.

Picking up on a prominent concern of residents, councillor Angela Hicks queried Colucci as to where water would be sourced in the event of a fire.

Where are you going to get the water? If there is a fire, you’re at the top of a hill running straight into the Bay of Quinte. As good as our fire department is they cannot conjure water out of thin air,” she stated.

Colucci noted the solution would need to be discussed with the fire department and that EDF would work with the department to ensure they “have the necessary equipment to respond.”

While many were vocal in their opposition to the BESS proposals, several residents were also opposed to the expansion of Atura Power’s Napanee Generating Station.

According to a staff report presented as part of the Nov. 14 Regular Council Meeting, Atura Power proposes to install a natural gas fired turbine generator with an average contract capacity of 400MW on lands west of the existing plant at 7143 Highway #33 on lands owned currently by OPG.

As with the BESS proposals, Atura requires council’s support to proceed with the expansion of this generating station.

Keith Brooks, Programs Director at Environmental Defence, argued against supporting this venture, highlighting the need to mitigate fossil fuel production in the wake of recent natural disasters hitherto unheard of in Canada.

This plant is part of an IESO plan that will increase greenhouse gas emissions, significantly undoing much of this province’s emission reduction since eliminating coal. Climate change is here. Now. I’m sure we all remember the images of wildfires raging across the country and how the air smelled like smoke,” recalled Brooks. “This is what our future looks like, only worse if we don’t get serious about climate change. You can say ‘no’ to this proposal. I know Atura is here saying they’re looking for points to be made about their proposal but that’s not true. They need your blessing. The government has been clear that no gas plants will be built without municipal consent. You have the power to say no.”

Brooks also questioned the validity of Atura’s assertion that the new plant expansion would be “hydrogen ready”, noting there would need to be significant modifications for this to be so.

There is no gas plant in the world running on hydrogen,” said Brooks.

Meanwhile, Chuck Farmer, on behalf of the IESO, spoke to a growing electricity demand and the “urgent need” to revamp Ontario’s electricity infrastructure.

Electricity demand is growing, as opposed to past twenty years when demand was flat. Now the needs, driven by economic development and population growth, are increasing,” explained Farmer. “Demand could grow by 40 per cent over next two decades.”

With much hanging in the balance, residents and proponents alike will have to wait until the Nov. 28 Regular Council Meeting to find out if council will support any, or all, of these proposals.

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