The tech is finally ready and a big energy storage project is set to unlock benefits for all Ontarians
Ontario produces a lot of electricity — but sometimes it’s too much, and other times, despite all our various kinds of power plants, it’s still not enough. What we’ve long needed is good battery storage, and last week a huge new project, driven by the latest technology, was announced that could make that dream a reality.
NRStor Incorporated and the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation were proud last week to announce their commitment to develop what could become one of the world’s largest energy storage facilities.
Through its plan to build in Jarvis, south of Hamilton, Oneida Energy Storage will, according to a third-party study, lower electricity system costs by up to $760 million over its lifetime — at no cost to electricity consumers. This will help to drive down bills for residents and businesses by making electricity more efficient and affordable.
The frequently mismatched variability between supply and demand causes most electricity systems to be overbuilt to make sure the lights stay on. In places like Ontario, many facilities produce power — most of which are clean, including hydro, wind, biomass and solar — but not always when we need it. As a result, we either waste that electricity or need gas plants to provide backup power when demand is high, particularly during hot summer months.
This has become an expensive enterprise. The annual cost of providing electricity to homes and businesses in Ontario is now about $22 billion and going up — about a third of total public spending on health care in the province before the pandemic. It’s a massive amount. Something needs to be done to help make our system more efficient, addressing our future energy needs while reducing costs for customers.
The Oneida Energy Storage Project can be a big part of the solution. The 250MW/1,000MWh project is large enough to retain excess power produced at night — when it is otherwise “dumped” — and discharge it to the grid when we need it. This will reduce reliance on older carbon-intensive generators, or even the need to build new gas plants in the future.
Electricity costs outpacing our needs and driving up bills isn’t new. So why hasn’t storage like this been used before?
Technological evolution, matched with market need, now makes large-scale battery storage projects cost-effective with a small footprint — they can be built at various sizes in almost any location. That’s why energy storage figures prominently in many of the supplementary ministerial mandate letters recently released by the federal government. While smaller battery projects have shown great value in remote communities in displacing antiquated diesel engines, or near wind and solar resources to help support decarbonization, the Oneida project will be done at the same scale as a conventional gas plant, but with no need of large pipelines to deliver the gas and no greenhouse gas or noxious emissions.
It’s not only the technology that’s important. This partnership will bring together private and Indigenous investors, alongside government. While Six Nations owns significant electricity assets, this project is an example of what can be accomplished in collaboration with Indigenous partners. Beginning with an idea and a memorandum of understanding in 2018, the relationship has evolved into a 50-50 controlled joint venture, with Six Nations co-leading the development of an innovative energy solution that will benefit all ratepayers. Indigenous partnerships are simply good business. In the coming weeks and months, Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation will carry out information sessions to ensure it remains transparent and accountable to their community, while also demonstrating how the project contributes to its guiding principle of respect for the natural world.
The Oneida Energy Storage Project will also help stimulate the economy as we recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic. Ready to be built now, it will create over 500 person years of employment. The environmental attributes are robust as well. Through this more efficient operation of the electricity system, the project will help Ontario reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 4.1 million tonnes, or the equivalent of taking about 40,000 cars off the road every year over the project’s life.
Energy storage promises to be one of the most important technological innovations of the 21st century. And while Canada is taking part in this energy renaissance, the partnerships we are building are what’s truly innovative, creating new models to deliver a true Canadian success story.