A renewable energy operation could be setting up shop next to Elmira’s Bio-En Power biogas plant by the end of this year if council approves a zoning bylaw amendment later this month.

IBI Group, on behalf of NextEra Energy, is proposing to amend the industrial zoning with a site-specific provision to permit the development of an electrical energy battery storage facility as a primary use on 1.73 hectares of the property.

The company has applied for changes to 50 Martin’s Lane in Elmira’s north end, where the facility is proposed to be built. The land, owned by Marbro Capital, is adjacent to the biogas plant.

NextEra Energy’s project director Neil Watlington explains they were selected by the Ontario Independent Energy System Operator after they put out a request for proposals two years ago looking for a company to provide an energy storage solution for the IESO.

They were awarded the contract in November of 2015.

“The energy storage technology comes enclosed in modular prebuilt trailers, so it would basically take up about half an acre in the Marbro park right next to the Bio-En facility. It’s about two acres for construction, about half an acre once we’re done and it’ll look like there’s a trailer that’s parked there with some electrical equipment around it,” Watlington explained.

They’re not 100 per cent certain how many there will be but they expect there will be six small buildings which look like shipping containers.

They can store about two megawatts of energy and also release two megawatts of energy.

“We’re continuously connected to the grid and we’re charged up like a [uninterruptible power supply] would. And then when the system operator decides that it’s beneficial to release energy as a generator to help balance the supply and demand of energy then they’ll release from the storage. We’re basically a balancing system to the grid.”

They hope to start construction in the summer and have it operating in late fall-early winter. The inside of the buildings look like computer rooms with racks and cables and boxes.

“The batteries are basically pouches. They’re independent pouches, they’re not like the cylinder type that you would normally see in the drugstore, for example. But they are modular also, so you can pull one out and put another one in,” Watlington explained.

NextEra Energy Resources plans to build a two megawatt battery storage facility in Elmira next to the Bio-En plant. This photo shows what that looks like on a larger scale at their Green Mountain facility in Pennsylvania, which is a 10-megawatt operation. [Submitted]

They’ve been operating in Canada for nearly a decade and have eight operating storage facilities. This will be the first built in Ontario, with a second planned for Parry Sound. The company has its sights set on additional expansion in the province.

“It is  the beginning of a type of service that may help eventually in having better quality of service and lower costs as it helps recycle, in a way, electricity, and at the same time also provides flexibility to the old technology grid where things were very rigid. This now provides more flexibility to electricity and the way it’s served and delivered,” Watlington said.

Communications manager Bryan Garner notes they’re the largest developer of renewable energy in North America from the wind and the sun, and are increasingly getting involved in storage technology.

He explains in a period of peak demand, in the summer for air conditioning, for example, an IESO can draw on the existing battery storage and release it to the grid to meet the demand, rather than calling on a new power plant to fire up a turbine.

The electricity system in Ontario at times relies on backup power from its gas-fired plants to make up for periods when solar and wind are unavailable, for instance. The NextEra arrangement stores such power when it’s generated, allowing it to be used when needed.

“It is an exciting and innovative use of battery technology that really helps improve the quality of electric service and the efficiency of it, and it can also be a cost-effective way of managing the grid,” Garner said.

A public meeting to discuss the zone-change application is set for Feb. 28 in Woolwich Township council chambers.