Huge utility-scale battery project planned for SW Ontario

Rating: High school and post-secondary

Summary: Markham interviews Jason Rioux, chief development officer with NRStor Inc., about Oneida Energy Storage, his company’s joint project with Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation to build 200 MW of utility-scale battery storage in SW Ontario.

Related links:

  1. Ontario First Nations tapping clean energy business opportunities – video interview with Matt Jamieson, CEO, Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation
  2. Battery storage important for wind and solar adoption, but power grid reform also critical – video interview with Dr. Kai-Philipp Karies, CEO of ACCURE Battery Science
  3. Battery storage plays a big role helping power grid integrate wind, solar – US govt lab study – video interview with Nate Blair, a co-author of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Storage Futures Study.”

Markham Hislop: There’s an exciting new project being built in Southwest Ontario. And it is a 250 megawatt utility scale battery project. So this is the biggest one in Canada and amongst the biggest in the world. And it’s going to be used to soak up some of that surplus wind energy that is produced in, in Ontario. It’s financed by the infrastructure bank of Canada. And the partners are NR store and six nations. So it’s got an indigenous community component to it as well. Very exciting. And we’re going to be talking to Jason Rio within our NR store.

Jason Rio: This is a proposed project at this stage. It’s a 250 thousand megawatt hour facility. It doesn’t use up a lot of land area, but it’s going to be one of the largest battery projects in the world. When it, when it is brought into service and when it is built, it will provide a lot of useful services to the Ontario grid to help us manage, a lot of surplus energy that we have on our system today. That’s clean power that isn’t able to be utilized at the best times for everybody in our province.

Markham Hislop: This is very much analogous to California where they’ve got surplus solar that they have to curtail or it actually gets offered on the market at negative prices sometimes. And it’s and they’re implementing battery storage in a big way for very much the same reason. So I, I take it. That’s a fair comparison?

Jason Rio: That’s a good, it’s a good analogy. The California market has its own nuances idiosyncrasies Ontario has its own as well. We have a very clean grid now in Ontario with the retirement of the coal facilities, but we have a lot of gas fire generation that is sitting around waiting to start up and ramp up and chase around the renewable energy that’s being produced in the province.

And it’s becoming a tougher and tougher job for the, for the grid operator, the IESO in Ontario to balance supply and demand at every moment in time. And so I think, you know, this kind of a project that the scale that it’s proposed to be at you know, is an important tool for our grid and our system operator to have to be able to balance that clean energy supply with when consumers need to use it and not have to you know, either force export  some clean energy on the inter-ties to our neighbours and, and not get a lot of value for it in that way.

And also to use all the existing assets we have in Ontario most efficiently. So don’t ask some of the wind facilities to curtail and not produce power when we have too much take that clean energy that can come from those assets that we’ve, that we’ve built and make best use of it. And so that’s, it’s all about running the grid more efficiently with energy storage and that will unlock savings ratios. How do we, how do we reduce the costs of operating our grid?

Markham Hislop: Well, let’s talk about the proponents for a moment here, but I’m seeing more and more first nations communities getting involved in this kind of a project, whether it’s on the generation side now, we’re seeing it on the storage side what led you to partner, or maybe they approached you to partner on this project?

Jason Rio: Our relationship with Six Nations of the Grand River and Development Corporation started back in 2017 effectively. So it’s been a multi-year development process working with with a six nations development corporation from the get-go from the concept of the project, through the development efforts we’ve done over the last number of years.

It’s one of the first projects that I’m aware of. And it’s certainly the most it’s the largest project we’ve done where we’ve, co-developed a project with with an indigenous partner from day one. And we’re quite excited about that aspect of this project and it’s gotten us to where we are today in our development efforts. And we still have more work to do on the project in terms of arriving at other key milestones for the project to be able to launch it. But it’s been a fantastic development process so far, and I think it’s a good approach to doing business.

Markham Hislop: What role will the Six Nations play in the project and in the construction and then in the operation of the project?

Jason Rio: So the Six Nations Development Corporation is a 50/50 partner currently in the project with us. So we’re, we’re hand in hand developing the project together every step of the way. So we’re looking at, we’re having all of our meetings together, we’re working on all the various decision-making that go through the development stages of a project like this.

We’re doing that together with them, we will own, and, and we’ll be part of the ownership mix of the project together with them through the construction phase and into the long-term operations of the project. So that you know we’re, long-term partners together and we have long standing benefits that will, that will float to their community.

Markham Hislop: Is there an opportunity for the first nation communities to generate employment, but also particularly I’m thinking technical training, you know, like electricians and engineers and those sorts of jobs.

Jason Rio: Certainly there is. In fact our partner in this project has been a partner in a number of other renewable energy projects, wind and solar products over the years, and they’ve already established themselves a contracting organization called A6N. And this is an organization that does perform technical services type work in the field. And the vision for this energy storage, the Oneida energy storage project is that we will continue to provide contracting opportunities to that organization, which in fact employs a number of folks from their community.

Markham Hislop: Final question, Jason. And this has to do with the lithium ion batteries. Readers can go to our YouTube channel a couple of days ago. I interviewed James Brett, who is theBloombergNF head of energy storage. We talked about battery prices, and we’re talking just on battery packs. We’re talking already now at $137 kilowatt hour down to a 100 by 2023 and down to $58 a kilowatt hour in 2030, that’s a huge drop in price. And for developers like you, Jason, I would think that that has gotta be, you know, really good news

Jason Rio: Whats happen is as the costs decline on storage technology, like battery storage and other technologies and that makes the business case more positive or more of the products to meet the break even point for being able to launch these kinds of projects. And so we’re at a stage today where battery prices have come down sufficiently the supply options from the suppliers that do make these technologies is commercial enough that we can do projects at the scale that can actually meet the needs of the size of the grid that we have here in Ontario.

This is the vision to be the first large project of its type in Canada. It’s certainly in Ontario and that when it is a brought online, it should be able to demonstrate how many other projects are yet to come. So the market for energy storage in Ontario in our view is already a couple of thousand megawatts of market size.

And this is only a 250 megawatt project meeting. Only a piece of what we think Ontario needs long-term.

Markham Hislop: Is the battery technology in this application, economical ready, or does it still require some subsidy to make it ECMO?

Jason Rio: Doesn’t require any subsidy. It doesn’t require any contribution you know, from a grant perspective to make the product economic it will, it is a, it’s a novel project in terms of providing services to the Ontario grid services that they need today and at a lower cost than alternatives and lower cost of doing nothing, frankly. So the sooner this project is ultimately approved and brought into service the sooner we can start generating savings for Ontario.

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