Battery facility in Sarnia would help regulate frequency, act as a temporary backup during blackouts, Bluewater Power VP says

June 9, 2017 – Tyler Kula, The Observer – The City of Sarnia and Bluewater Power are hoping a proposal for an energy storage hub gets the green light.

Sarnia City Council recently endorsed a plan to lease land to Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Canada for the company to build a 10-megawatt battery energy storage facility, large enough to balance out unsteady frequency from renewable sources like wind and solar, and act as a temporary backup power supply in the event of a blackout.

“We have a lot of green energy in our system,” said Chris Gould, vice-president with Bluewater Power, noting eight solar farms contribute 80 megawatts to the Sarnia-Lambton utility’s distribution system.

While traditional generators – coal, gas, nuclear – are steady power producers, renewables require energy storage, like batteries, to be able to efficiently use the energy they generate when it’s needed, he said.

“As many solar farms go up and as many wind farms go up, I think over the coming years you’re going to see as many energy storage projects develop,” he said.

The Sarnia project, proposed for the Water Pollution Control Centre on St. Andrew Street, has been submitted to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) – the Crown corporation responsible for operating the electricity market in Ontario – for funding.

The cost isn’t known yet, but it will be tens of millions of dollars to build and operate over its lifetime, Gould said.

Hopes are it gets the go-ahead in three to six months, he said.

RES Canada, which has its office in Montreal, is the bidder, but Bluewater Power and its affiliate companies are in line to do the building and maintenance, and will also have some say in the operation as it’s hooked into the grid, Gould said.

“At a high level, we offer technical expertise … and we offer what operation and maintenance of it will look like from our standpoint,” he said.

City officials said the project could also help attract new energy firms and demonstration projects, positive possibilities on the economic development front.

It’s the second time for the RES proposal, after it was passed over in favour of cheaper options in 2015, said Gould.

A lot has been learned since that experience, on both sides, he said.

“When the cheapest project gets awarded, it doesn’t’ necessarily mean the best group and the best developer was awarded the project,” he said.

Renewable Energy Systems, the RES Canada parent company, has been involved in more than 100 wind and solar energy projects totaling 10,000 megawatts on four continents, city officials said.

It also operates one of the first grid-connected batteries in North America, the Amphora station in Strathroy.

The actual batteries are encased in sea containers, set in place on pillars or footings and connected to nearby transformers. The proposal calls for about a half acre’s worth.

The Sarnia battery hub’s proposed 10 megawatts is about five per cent of Bluewater Power’s distribution system, Gould said, noting the system operates between 185 and 200 megawatts at any given time.

“I would assume that our distribution system would benefit from one of these,” he said.

Ratepayers wouldn’t see a noticeable difference in their bills, he said.

City officials said the lease is $5,000 per year over a 10-year period. It starts when and if the contract is green-lighted, Gould said.

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