Property owners push back against plans for energy storage facility near Gravenhurst, Ont.

Energy Storage Facility Photo by Shutterstock/Wirestock Creators

Plans for a proposed battery energy storage system facility near Coopers Falls Road, a half an hour south of Gravenhurst, Ont., have been scrapped after pushback from local property owners.

During a November 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, SolarBank, the company slated to develop the energy storage facility, addressed the Gravenhurst council. SolarBank’s CEO Richard Lu and Brandon Blair, a senior engineer from Sungrow Power Supply Co., the battery energy storage system (BESS) supplier for the project, explained to council that the proposed facility, which would occupy 10 acres of land, would use lithium battery technology to store surplus energy from the area’s electricity grid, providing extra power during periods of high demand or during blackouts and brownouts.

“This is a technology that’s not only needed, but it’s safe,” Blair said.

Lu added that electricity prices and demand are increasing. By 2026, there will be reliability issues with Ontario’s electricity grid, he said, such as rolling blackouts and brownouts. These energy storage facilities would help fill that gap, making Ontario’s grid more reliable.

Blair then discussed the proven dependability of the technology and the safety standards around the lithium batteries. “Stationary energy storage has a tremendous amount of codes and standards,” he said. “We do a lot of testing. We don’t just go into a community and enforce anything to be built in any location. So, it’s a very, very safe technology.”

Before closing out the presentation, Lu told council that while SolarBank could legally build the facility without municipal support, the development would not move forward unless it had the community’s approval.

Gravenhurst-area residents, however, were quick to voice their discontent. In a report to the town, the Clearwater Lake Property Owners Association, which borders the proposed development site, outlined why it felt the location was unsuitable for an energy storage facility.

“Our concern is the issue of public safety and suitability of this site,” the report said. “Operation of a very large BESS on this site will endanger the safety of the Clearwater Lake community of approximately 200–250 inhabitants in 68 homes and cottages.”

The association’s top concern was the possibility of a fire caused by the facility. The report acknowledged that while the battery technology sounded safe, on the off chance it did spark a fire, the proposed site is surrounded by a wooded area and only 120 metres west of Clear Lake Road, the sole evacuation route out of the area. There are also several private residences within 350 metres of the proposed site.

The report raised concerns over construction as well. Based on the proposed size of the facility, the association estimated that between 3,500 to 7,000 gravel dump trucks would be needed to deliver aggregate to the site, disturbing nearby neighbours and eroding the two-lane country road.

Finally, the report noted a possible ecological disturbance. The surrounding public and private land provide habitats for keystone species, such as beavers, deer, moose, and waterfowl, as well as several endangered species, including Blanding’s turtles, the eastern red bat, and the silver-haired bat.

In response to the community feedback, Gravenhurst Mayor Heidi Lorenz announced during a November 28 planning meeting that SolarBank had withdrawn its proposal.

In an email, Mila Simon, a spokesperson for SolarBank, said: “After public consultation and further site assessment, we have decided not to move forward with this site for bid.”

The company is pursuing other locations, including the Township of Armour in Parry Sound, Ont., the Township of Mulmur in Dufferin County, Ont., and the municipality of Arran-Elderslie in Bruce County, Ont.

SolarBank has until December 12 to submit a facility bid to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the organization responsible for managing Ontario’s power system, for approval.

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