Wanderings – Hypocritical NIMBYism a set back for all

Last week, the Ontario government announced the winners of its battery energy storage procurement process, and the community I live in lost in both figurative and literal sense.

Unlike previous “green energy” procurement processes in Ontario, the provincial government didn’t try to force projects on communities. Interested companies had to get the blessing of the local municipal government to set up shop.

These types of projects, which are a form of industrial development, usually come with incentives to the community which means money for something. Normally this takes the form of a community fund, where groups within the municipality can access a set amount of money every year to support projects. Projects like these also provide tax revenue – often a large amount of it.

This latest round of “green energy” involved a pair of large battery farms to store electricity during the day when it’s generated by solar and wind farms, and released when needed when it’s night. These make sense as the sun does not shine every day, and the wind does not gust fast enough to spin the turbine blades always. We store energy in batteries for flashlights when the power goes out – now scale that up by several million factors. Of the two proposed battery sites here that were pitched, the first didn’t make it out of the starting blocks. The second went before the local council and was shot down. Some residents – NIMBYs – were unhappy with the risks of these battery storage sites – and there are risks. Ever see a Lithium Ion battery burn? Look it up – it’s called Thermal Runaway. It is a risk, like a cell phone battery getting too hot and burning up – but on a much larger scale.

There are ways to handle the risk. These sites are designed with battery packs in groups, lots of spacing between, and redundancies. If one battery pack goes, the whole battery storage farm doesn’t burn up – just one pod. But there were understandable concerns – mostly what-ifs.

What if, the whole place catches fire? What if, that contaminates the soil, the water, and such? What if, fire crews can’t put out the fire – would there be large scale damage? What if, the worst case scenario was another Three Mile Island?

NIMBYism won here. Council voted against being a “welcome host.” The project was left dead in its tracks. But no matter, other communities picked up the ball.

In the next municipality over from where I live, their council dismissed the NIMBYism and voted to support the proposed project in their community. Here’s the catch, that project is located right on the boundary with the community I live in. In fact, the facility is on the doorstep of where the one would have gone where I live.

That municipality now will see a giant benefit to the project moving forward in their community – $1 million per year. Of that, $300K per year is a community fund for projects in that township for the next 21 years. That alone is $6.3 million directly for the community. But that’s not all. That same municipality will see about $700,000 per year in property taxes collected from this industry – making it one of the largest industrial taxpaying businesses there. Over 21 years that amounts to $14.7 million in tax revenue – an incredible amount of money for housing battery packs.

Where I live has seen high property tax increases the last two years, with more on the way as millions in infrastructure have long gone past best before dates.

Even a portion of that tax revenue would have made a big difference – keeping tax increases low and eliminating the need for long-term borrowing to pay for those costs. Don’t forget the good that a well-funded community fund would have done here. Our loss is another’s gain.

The hypocrisy of it all is that some of those who opposed a battery project in their backyard are the same ones who spread liquefied human bio-solids from wastewater treatment plants on corn and soybean fields, growing crops for fuel. How many pathogens are there in that sewer sludge spread in the fields? Even those who use animal manure to fertilize crops have pathogens and other containments on the fields. Never mind that some of those same crops are grown for fueling gas tanks rather than feeding families. Those are all acceptable risks though I guess. Just no batteries please. (Those farms are all tilled by hand and have no equipment with Lithium batteries, right?)

The last laugh is against the NIMBYs here – as our neighbours will enjoy the funds from this large project and the trickle down effects of lower taxes, improved infrastructure and support for community projects.

Those who live next door to the project where I live will still have all the environmental concerns, without the money. And we will all see our taxes increase to pay for all that aging infrastructure. Thanks for that.

This column was originally published in the May 22, 2024 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.