Editorial – Sometimes the least worst option is best

A swath of battery energy storage projects are proposed across Eastern Ontario, including two so far in South Dundas. Those two projects are undergoing environmental assessments as owners await bid approval from Ontario’s Independent Electrical System Operator. The battery energy storage projects are part of a larger call by the province to increase the options available on Ontario’s electrical grid as the demand for electricity continues to grow.

More homes use electricity for heating, and our driving economy is moving to more electric car use. Demand for electricity will not subside as the population grows – despite energy conservation efforts. Ontario has a wide variety of power generation sources, some of which are weather dependent and need some form of storage.

Both of the proposed South Dundas projects are awaiting approvals with the IESO before construction may begin. Neither have been awarded yet. Both South Dundas projects recently held public meetings and local residents’ concerns are understandable. Nearly a decade ago, a wind turbine project was built near Brinston. Many residents in South Dundas opposed this project. Neighbouring municipalities also saw wind and solar facilities built in the last 10 years. Even when municipal councils opposed these projects, the provincial government of the day overruled and allowed them to proceed. Now we are at this point again, or so it seems.

Battery electric storage facilities are built with the same lithium ion type of batteries used in your cellphone or computer – only at a larger scale. Like all industrial-scale projects, there are multiple redundancies and safety systems in place in case of an emergency. South Dundas has two pipelines and multiple electrical transmission lines traversing its boundaries: no one is protesting these. Are the proposed battery energy storage projects the least worst option for South Dundas? Perhaps?

The Town of Greater Napanee was recently offered $4.8 million to allow for a 430 MW natural gas plant to be built. Many groups are fighting it and that town’s council deferred its decision on the project – a project that was already turned down in Toronto, Kingston and Thorold. Given South Dundas’ location, available land, and connections to the natural gas and electrical grids, would residents be as opposed to a gas power plant? Is that project better or worse than shipping containers full of the same type of batteries which power much of the electronics in our homes?

As we have seen with wind and solar energy farms, municipal permission and residents’ consent are inconsequential to achieving provincial priorities. The Ontario government has many levers of power at its disposal to enforce its will to meet its goals – locals be damned. If the battery storage companies are rejected by local officials, other projects may be proposed to fill the provincial need. What is the least worst option is an important question to answer.

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