Rideau Lakes Township (RLT) Council rejects BESS projects over safety concerns

Image for display purpose only. Photo credit: Stock image.
Posted on: December 6, 2023

Two companies made a presentation each bidding for an Ontario government contract to build and maintain Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) projects in RLT for a 20 year period. They are required to seek and gain support from townships prior to 12 December 2023, in the form of a Letter of Support in Principle, where their proposed sites are located. The Plus Power site is on McCann Road at Upper Rideau Lake Road, and the Baseload Power site is off Cedar Valley Road southeast of Portland. According to township staff, if RLT Council votes ‘yes’ with these letters of support, then these companies have the right to build and operate these projects if they are awarded the contracts by the Ontario government. After that, the Township would only have ‘site plan approval’ rights relating to such things as road building, allowances, and things of this nature. The only Township input/authority would be minimal through site plan controls. RLT Council has had since mid October to do their own research, and was not provided with any substantive and necessary information from the province, only receiving information and presentations from the potential bidding companies. It was reported that Council could not avail themselves with normally expected factual reports from Staff to assess prior to making Council decisions, as this is a relatively new technology where factual information, particularly around fire and groundwater contamination, is not clearly and readily available. The only source of information that came through official channels was from the companies proposing these projects. It was left up to Councilors as well as the public to do individual research on the risks. 

The Council meeting proceeded with presentations by these two companies and question period. At the end, a vote on each project was taken. The results are in on both projects: Plus Power project (McCann Road project) and Baseload Power (Cedar Valley project). The Motion for RLT to provide a letter of support in principle to both companies to accompany their proposals to the Ontario government seeking project approval, were both defeated by Council. The long and short of it, in my observation watching video Council proceedings and the presentations by the two project companies, shows that for both parties, municipalities were ‘left in the wind’ by the Ontario government. The companies could only provide information based on recently completed and operating projects and they were not able to provide detailed plans and answers now to normal questions about fire, water pollution, and other important risk management considerations in the form of detailed prevention and remediation plans that our rural municipalities want to see before they give any form of support. The reason for this is that the site plans and all detailed risk management plans/scenarios covering any potential negative incidents. These detailed plans and other work could only follow once Ontario has awarded them a contract. Naturally, only then would the winning companies invest in the detailed required work and planning with organizations like the Ontario Department of Environment, all of which costs them resource time and money to complete for contract compliance purposes. RLT, like surrounding municipalities that have not approved these projects in principle either, most recently our neighbours in Kiteley-Toledo, do not have the expertise or capacity to get the answers to do their necessary due diligence to support the companies going forth to the province with their bid.

Basically, in my opinion, a flawed Ontario government project plan that prematurely called for RFP submissions from bidding companies is the main problem, and it was caused by the Ontario government! I felt that the unstated general feeling in the room was that maybe when other municipal cities and towns approve these projects in principle, and once we see these projects up and running safely, will Council and residents in Rideau Lakes then buy into a potential next round. What we all know here in this beautiful rural township is that you only get one chance to protect our environment. To approve these relatively new BESS projects here and now, with what we were able to learn in so short a period of time because of provincial time pressure, is simply not enough to outweigh the potential risks to our rural land and waters. Let’s hope that these projects are proven safe and reliable as the electrical energy they can produce is a big step forward for us all as our provincial energy needs and consumption are only going to rise!

Article by Brian Preston.

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News