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Local opposition leads to BESS project cancellations in North America – report

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Some proposed battery storage projects have been cancelled the US and Canada since the start of this year, after facing opposition from local communities.

According to local news outlets, three battery energy storage system (BESS) projects in Alberta, Canada and another in Staten Island, New York, have been dropped in January alone.

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In what could be a worrying development for an industry that is otherwise on a trajectory of accelerated growth, community members and authorities have been quoted in their local media citing concerns including fire risks and a lack of education as to what is being installed in their area.

The most recent example Energy-Storage.news has seen is from Prince Edward County in Ontario, where the local council refused to back two BESS projects of equal 3MW/12MWh output and capacity.

Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson was quoted by local newspaper site Quinte News as saying the council was being put in a position of making a decision, and therefore taking a risk, on a technology that it was “not fully educated on”.

Councillor Steve Hirsch also sided with local opponents of the plan, stating that the council did not have “adequate information at this point,” amid “too many safety concerns, environmental concerns”.

It follows the council’s denial of support for a 250MW BESS project in the area a couple of weeks earlier.

This was despite a deputation from a consultant at Compass Clean Energy, who attempted to highlight that the site was in an ideal location due to proximity to high-voltage lines and other infrastructure, that it would help the area deal with rising energy demand, and create jobs and tax revenues.

One councillor said in response that it would not be the best use of prime agricultural land, and said there had been around 50 battery storage fires around the world since 2017, focusing in particular on the incident in Arizona in that year that injured four firefighters.

Fires are rare and preventable, but remain high profile

Given that energy storage has only since around that time become a multiple gigawatt annual global market, this implies fires are extremely rare. It should be noted also that DNV, which investigated that Arizona fire said lessons learned from it could prevent a repeat, or similar incidents happening elsewhere. A UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL FSRI) report into the same incident said more up-to-date best practises training could reduce risks for fire crews and other emergency responders.

That said, the industry and wider public should take notice – despite the industry’s many highlights last year, the most-read news story on Energy-Storage.news in 2022 was about overheating (not fire) incidents at the Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in California. The third most-read was about a fire that occurred during the pre-commissioning testing phase of Australia’s largest BESS project, the 300MW/450MWh Victorian Big Battery.

Problems with e-scooters and other e-mobility devices have also catapulted the issue to public attention, but it should be noted that large-scale BESS come with much more sophisticated battery management systems (BMS) and safety features than the extremely hard-to-regulate market for scooters.

In an interview with Energy-Storage.news last year, former New York firefighter and energy storage subject matter expert Paul Rogers emphasised the immense importance of engaging with local communities and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), as well as first and emergency response teams on battery projects from the earliest possible stages.

Earlier this month, New Leaf Energy, the developer spun out of Borrego, dropped plans for a BESS project of up to 120MW output in Staten Island, New York, according to local news outlet SI Live.

New Leaf Energy aimed to contract with utility Con Edison for the BESS to be used to manage peak demand on the distribution grid, which local Assemblyman and project opponent Sam Pirozzolo admitted it would do.

However, the Assemblyman said, the project presented a risk of putting “fire and exposure to toxic chemicals” into a residential and school district area. Pirozzolo said he is advocating for a ban on BESS projects in residential areas.

Other local residents and representatives quoted in the SI Live report said they supported the development of BESS and renewable energy facilities but questioned the choice of location.

Last week, residents voiced similar concerns over a proposed solar-plus-storage project in New Mexico’s Santa Fe County, according to newspaper Santa Fe New Mexican.

The 96MW solar PV and 48MW BESS project Rancho Viejo Solar, is being planned by AES Corporation, which is expected to file for a conditional use permit.

This article has been amended from its original form to reflect that Prince Edward County is of course in the province of Ontario, not Alberta, Canada.

Energy-Storage.news’ publisher Solar Media will host the 5th Energy Storage Summit USA, 28-29 March 2023 in Austin, Texas. Featuring a packed programme of panels, presentations and fireside chats from industry leaders focusing on accelerating the market for energy storage across the country. For more information, go to the website.

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