Napanee Council votes to support three local energy projects, in theory

Atura’s Napanee Generating Station with the tall stacks of Lennox Generating Station behind. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Napanee Town Council has voted to support three proposed energy projects despite great public outcry against them.

Two Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) owned by EDF Renewables and Boralex, to be located on privately owned farmland, and a new expansion to the existing Atura Napanee Generating Station received Council’s support in theory at their Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, meeting, but without any commitment.

As Ontario’s electricity system evolves to become more diverse and dynamic, procurement processes must evolve along with it, a report before Council suggested. The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) recommended that one mechanism the Town could use to support its resource adequacy initiatives would be a Long-Term Request for Proposals (LT1 RFP), which is intended to “acquire capacity services to meet system reliability needs from New Build and Eligible Expansion Electricity resources starting in 2028 or earlier,” the report states.

As previously reported in coverage of Kingston City Council, in an attempt to competitively procure up to 2m518 megawatts (MW) of year-round capacity, the IESO is accepting LT1 RFP applications from September 29 through December 12, 2023. Applications for LT1 contracts will be awarded by the IESO based on a number of criteria, but a demonstration of municipal council support would, in principle, provide an advantage to local applicants by allowing them to gain additional points in the procurement process.

Thus, several energy projects are being pursued in Napanee because of its prime location on Ontario’s energy grid.

The last Council meeting was overwhelmed with numerous delegations both supporting but mainly opposing the projects, to the point where a vote was put over to the Tuesday, Nov. 29, council meeting.

Before making any decisions, Council received a report by Fire Chief Bill Hammond with regard to the pros and cons of Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) facilities in the community from a fire response standpoint. 

Hammond’s report noted that “all of the incidents to date have been managed by the respective fire department some with no issue and some with incidents.”

He pointed out with emphasis, “Some of the reports that were brought before you [previously] and cited through the [United] States and Europe, Australia, the fire department that responded to those incidents, made drastic mistakes… Each report when drilled down shows that in the early stages of this newer technology, there were mistakes made or assumptions on how to handle these facilities when an incident arose.”

He noted that many issues related to the way the fire was attacked or not, saying, “This is why the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and Energy Storage Canada created a Solar electricity and Battery Storage systems safety handbook for Fire departments. This document has been widely distributed to fire departments as the initial response guide to issues involving both solar power storage (which uses similar container storage units) and BESS issues.”

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), he noted, also has taken on the task of creating a standard to assist fire crews in handling many fires that departments respond to, not just structure fires. 

The Chief pointed out that BESS facilities are not unlike any other unmanned facility, noting they are monitored locally by sensors which alert a call centre, and then operators can handle the issue or call the local authorities for assistance: “We have several major pipelines which run through our community with boosting and testing facilities attached, they too are monitored from great distances with no staff on site. We have confidence in these reporting mechanisms as they have worked in the past.”

As well, he pointed out that, “all BESS units have built-in redundancies from detection systems to deflagration protection in case of a fire or explosion. Industry standards and best practices will be followed as per all regulatory requests.”

To date, the fire department has responded to a handful of lithium battery fires already with great success, according to Hammond. The Fire Department has attended public meetings and had consultations with those who are applying for funding for these projects.

“We are satisfied that each applicant has a safety plan, response plan and a mitigation plan in line with what we would expect for these facilities,” he said, pointing out that the fire department is in possession of the provincial document, which “outlines best practices for response to BESS incidents and required equipment.”

Next, Council accepted a report by Michael Nobes, General Manager of Growth and Expansion/Chief Building Official for the Town. He noted that “the request of the applicant is for a support resolution solely to gain points in a procurement process. If approved by Council, the recommendation does not supersede any other provincial, federal, or municipal regulatory requirements and approvals in the process. This is very early in the stage and this is solely to gain points in a procurement process.” 

Deputy Mayor Brian Calver asked Nobes for clarity that a vote at the meeting would not “put a battery plant in place. There’s all kinds of other things that would have to happen before that took place?”

Nobes confirmed this was correct, saying the IESO would be rendering decisions on applications that are received through this procurement process.

“If Council is agreeable to the applicant’s request for support resolution, this simply gains them additional points in weighted criteria for the IESO to ultimately make a decision. The IESO may award all or none of these projects before Council this evening… It’s not an automatic approval,” he explained.

Councillor David Pinnell observed, “Back when the Green Energy Act was out, we saw an influx of solar farms and we had no say in where the solar farms could go. And they took up a good chunk of prime agricultural land.” He said he was in possession of a report that less than one per cent of energy in Ontario comes from solar. Kingstonist was not able to verify the assertion made in the report Pinnell referred to.

“We can just drive around and see our large solar fields and what they’ve done… if we deem ourselves as a willing host of these, then we’re going to see more and more of these projects being proposed. much similar to the way that our solar farms came up,” Pinnell continued.

“I also believe that these battery energy storage plants should be housed at the place of generation… generating stations… I’m still concerned. Even [after] listening to the chief, I’m still concerned [about] the amount of distance that these things are going to be located off of a main throughway.” 

Councillor Angela Hicks asked that all of the votes regarding energy projects be recorded.

Both the Boralex Lennox Battery Energy Storage Project and the EDF Renewables Bethany Battery Energy Storage Project Request for Municipal Support Resolutions were approved. Pinnell and Hicks voted against both with the rest of Council in favour.

Next, Council visited the Atura Power Napanee Generating Station Natural Gas Turbine Expansion Request for Municipal Support Resolution.  

Deputy Mayor Calver asked Nobes, “Just to be clear, this is not a new plant. This is an addition to what’s already there?” He qualified his question by saying he had received a number of emails opposing any new natural gas-powered power plants.

Nobes confirmed that this request was for approval of only an expansion to the plant that already exists: “There is an existing natural gas-fired facility creating electricity and this would be an expansion to that use… it would be another turbine mechanism, if you will, but the actual site is functioning today with this type of power generation.”

The A.L. Dafoe water treatment plant in Napanee draws water from Lake Ontario via a pumping station located across the road from the Atura site. The intake pipe is located about 53 metres offshore at a depth of 3.4 metres.

Pinnell made the comment that “we do have to be very concerned of the water intake for drinking water of course, I’m sure that that will be handled. But for this particular project, I’m pleased to say this on industrial land and it is going to be housed at the point of generation, so I’ll be voting yes for this one.” 

This municipal support resolution passed with only Councillor Hicks opposed.

As always, you can read full Council meeting agendas on Napanee’s civic web online, and watch meetings live or recorded on the town’s YouTube channel.

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