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Council approves electrical grid battery storage facility for Elmira

Essentially a large battery backup system for the electrical grid, a two-megawatt storage facility has been approved for Elmira’s north-side industrial area.

NextEra Energy won approval Tuesday night for its request to amend the industrial zoning to permit the development of a battery storage facility on a 4.2-acre site at 50 Martin’s Lane. The land, owned by Marbro Capital, is adjacent to the biogas plant.

Once completed, the facility would allow the company to fulfill a contract with Ontario Independent Energy System Operator (IESO) to provide an energy storage solution for an electrical grid that is fed from intermittent sources such as solar and wind power.

The facility would house a series of independent battery modules – more like pouches than conventional batteries – that would store excess power in the grid, releasing it when demand grew or generation dropped off, as with solar panels at night or turbines on a windless day.

Currently, 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. NextEra facilities store such power when its generated, allowing it to be used when needed.

NextEra has 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.

The plan approved by council May 9 is much as it was presented at a public meeting in February, though director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley noted the original layout of six small shipping-container-sized buildings has been changed to two slightly larger containers.

Asked by Coun. Patrick Merlihan to explain the change, NextEra project manager Neil Watlington said the move was simply an engineering optimization, essentially the same service within a smaller footprint on the site.

William Pol, a planner with the IBI Group, said the goal is to keep as much of the property landscaped by limiting the footprint of the facility and the access road.

Of bigger concern to councillors were the safety measures, with Coun. Mark Bauman pointing to the township’s history of chemical production, releases and pollution issues. Fire concerns topped the list.

Watlington said the company has some 100 megawatts in operation or in the later stages of development, and has never experienced any problems. Moreover, the system is designed to be self-contained, with each battery in the closer subject to 24/7 monitoring. The facilities are equipped with failsafe mechanisms that will shut down individual modules if any problems are detected, he said.

Ultimately, if there is a larger problem and a fire, a chemical fire-suppression system kicks in, with a shutdown of the containers connection to the grid and the fire and its suppression kept within the container.

Addressing the change of design – two 40-metre containers instead of six 30-metre structures – Pol noted the safety measures will be the same.

“Fire suppression will be equal whether it’s two containers or six containers,” he said.

Speaking to a holding provision on the property added to the draft presented Tuesday night, Marbro Capital’s Dennis Martin asked the township to remove the restriction, noting any change in industrial use on the side is already constrained by a lack of municipal services such as water and sewers.

Kennaley said the change would be looked at prior to a report at next week’s council meeting, where Tuesday’s decision will have to be ratified.

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