Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability

BESS: Battery Energy Storage Systems - Coming to Ottawa?

Battery Energy storage was all the buzz in October and November 2023 for those of us interested in renewable energy and the energy transition. BESS technology has dramatically improved over the past decade and is now cost effective at utility scale. The Ontario Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO) put out a competitive call for proposals in October for procuring over 2,500 megawatts and 5 prospective proponents showed interest in siting their prospective projects near transmission lines in rural Ottawa. 

BESS projects will bolster the grids capacity to meet Ontario’s growing electricity consumption, help with peak load (so we don't need to build more gas peaker plants), help balance the intermittent power generation by wind and solar, and can be developed fairly rapidly.  More background:  BESS FAQ: City of Ottawa

CAFES became aware of BESS project proponents inviting residents in Ottawa West Carleton to a local consultation meeting in Fitzroy Harbour in late October for meetings in early November. Ironically, it was a fear-mongering message from anti-wind energy activists, presenting BESS as highly flammable, toxic, air and ground water polluting systems, that reached us first. The CAFES climate misinformation team quickly produced a Backgrounder with more balanced information and sent this alongside a call to our network for residents to attend the BESS proponent information meetings. It is important to differentiate between valid community concerns and questions, and misleading messaging that seeks to instill fear, uncertainty and delay (FUD). 

What did we observe?

Members of the CAFES network attended 3 local in-person meetings, and 2 virtual community consultations. Community response ranged from hostile (Nov 1 Fitzroy Harbour) - to very concerned (Nov 9 Fitzroy Harbour) - to optimistic and curious (Nov 28 Manotick). It was very interesting to observe the range of responses to the different projects that at face value, are more or less the same, but differ in size and location. We witnessed how ‘the mood of the room’ can be palpable and intimidating, how a few agitators can easily incite this mood, and how it matters a great deal who receives the invitation to the meeting and comes. In a similar local consultation for a BESS proposal in Elizabethtown-Kitley, just outside of Brockville, a death threat was uttered and the Toronto-based project proponent has withdrawn.  

The second observation was frustration at the process from residents and affected councillors. For the public, their expectation of a consultation was to have all uncertainties answered. The proponents expectation was to present their project, listen attentively to concerns and note what they need to address further along in the design phase if awarded a contract.

The third observation is to question who should have a say? Clearly, direct neighbours to a development must be alerted and informed. Councillors pay most attention to their ward residents. Energy resiliency of the Ottawa-area grid is all of our concern as is the energy transition. So that voices from Arnprior or Kemptville should also be welcome and heard. 

A tight timeline

On November 30th, the Agricultural and Rural Affairs (ARAC) standing committee (Clrs. Darouze, Kelly, Kitts, Brown, Luloff) met to deliberate on the issuance of municipal support resolutions (MSR) for the BESS projects. If a company received an MSR, they would receive 3 points in their bid to the IESO, and although an MSR isn’t an approval for the project to begin construction, it would help the proponents potentially win a contract from the IESO. 

The ARAC meeting saw over a dozen public delegations, including from CAFES and members of CAFES. Overall, two thirds of delegates spoke in favour of granting the MSRs for the BESS projects and one third opposed. A pledge for $3M in local economic benefits (cash for community disposition) from Potentia, one of the Ward 5 proponents, was told this came too late by Clr Kelly. 

How did ARAC Vote?  The committee had held internal pre-discussions and commenced the meeting with a significant amendment to the staff recommendations, including voting on the MSRs on a project-by-project basis. The project in Ward 20 was not welcomed by Clr Darouze and the proponent retracted before the meeting.The three proposals in Ward 5 (Clr Kelly) were unanimously rejected; the Evolugen proposal in Ward 20 (Clr Brown) received the MSR unanimously. ARAC Chair Darouze was careful to note in his closing comments that this vote should not be understood as NIMBY (not in my back yard) nor as rejecting the technology. The ARAC BESS decisions were then voted through at the December 6th Council meeting on the consent agenda (no discussion). 

Positive Outcomes and next steps for Renewable Energy

It was important and significant that the CAFES network was able to spread the word about the BESS consultation meetings and the ARAC meeting on the MSRs (given that ARAC effectively was allowed to serve as the gatekeeper). We were able to raise awareness and mobilize voices of support. We saw the CAFES renewable energy working group grow, and the CAFES climate misinformation team got a chance to execute their work-in-progress process in real time.

The IESO decisions on the BESS contract awards will be made in May 2024. Before then, in Q1 the City of Ottawa will specify planning and zoning requirements for Renewable Energy Facilities. CAFES has been following this file and will take a position in support of renewable energy, distributed energy resources, increased energy resiliency and local economic benefits.

On December 11 2023, the IESO announced that in the forthcoming LT2 round of procurement it will be looking to source 2,000MW of new non-emitting electricity generation, including wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy, to go on-line by 2030. This reflects the new reality of electrical energy needs on the ON grid, as well as cost-effectiveness of renewables which are now the cheapest source of new power. 

An overwhelming lesson learned from the November 2023 BESS story is that much work is needed on public information and awareness concerning the grid and energy resiliency. There are important opportunities for the Ottawa region in terms of both general economic benefits from having a strong regional grid, as well as specific local economic benefits as we can require renewable energy and energy storage project developers to engage with our community and share the profits, if not ownership. This requires local leadership.

While it is interesting to watch the COP discussions from afar, the real transition from fossil fuels is taking place locally right in front of us. If you are interested in Renewable Energy, we have a growing CAFES Renewable Energy working group; please contact

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