By Ottawa Wind Concerns on December 5, 2023
During the discussions about proposals for Battery Energy Storage Systems or BESS last week, it was disappointing to see the “NIMBY” [not in my back yard] insult being employed, especially by so-called environmentalists and community leaders.
One is a “Director of Emotional Health” for a community association, who thought it was perfectly healthy and supportive to brand her fellow West Carleton residents as “NIMBYs” just for expressing concern about the environment, health and the safety of cropland.
The NIMBY epithet was so prevalent in presentations to Ottawa’s Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) that ARAC chair George Darouze said “We are not NIMBYs” and then went on with an elegant and important discussion of how rural residents are concerned about environmental impact for not just rural communities but for all of Ottawa.
He said rural residents were especially “sensitive” to environmental issues, which is why they had questions about the battery proposals.
Using the NIMBY insult says a lot about you
The term NIMBY is not just an insult to those who are concerned about a particular type of development, it also speaks volumes about the people who use it.
Environmental lawyer McRoberts:
To urban-based environmentalists, resistance to wind and solar farms is often seen as nothing more than Not in My Backyard attitudes (NIMBYism), and turbine opponent concerns are trivialised. … [M]any communities opposed to these projects have genuine concerns about impacts on environmental integrity, viewscapes, food production, and social fabric. … Moreover, the supposed “NIMBY syndrome” has been criticised by environmental justice scholars and others as an oversimplification of opposition that more accurately is based on a complex mix of factors including perceptions about a lack of procedural and distributive justice in approval processes. (McRobert, D., Tennent-Riddell, J. and Walker, C. (2016) Ontario’s Green Economy and Green Energy Act: Why a Well-Intentioned Law Is Mired in Controversy and Opposed by Rural Communities. Renewable Energy Law and Policy, 7, 99.)
So what were people who live in Ottawa’s rural wards worried about? Mainly environmental concerns, specifically from the risk of fire in a battery storage unit, and pollution from chemicals and water. They were also worried about noise and light pollution, and they had concerns about the proposed locations The battery storage installations would be an industrial land use, yet in many of the proposals were to be located near homes.
The risk of fire was not addressed satisfactorily by the proponents at the public meetings which, people felt, were rushed and held without wider notice.
The technology is new and there simply was not enough time to learn about it, or to get answers to very important questions about the risk of fire. At the ARAC meeting November 30, the leaders of
Ottawa Fire Services said that the fire risk is a concern for fire services across Ontario. The Ontario Fire Marshal will release a report but it is not available yet — nevertheless, residents and municipal governments were expected to grant support in spite of questions about that risk.
Battery storage: myth or solution?
What are the battery installations supposed to do, anyway?
Shirley Dolan, appearing at ARAC as a Director with the Ontario Landowners Association, said that there had been no cost-benefit analysis presented for any battery storage proposal. In short, she said, there was no rationale for the installations, no explanation of costs or other impacts, no details beyond basic claims that the batteries would provide power during outages, and no reasons given for the locations proposed.
The claim that the batteries are needed for power outages warrants examination.
If we lose power as the result of a storm, the usual cause is damage to electricity infrastructure such as downed power lines. That was confirmed by Hydro One’s CEO earlier this year. So, if we have power lines or other features such as transformers damaged and not functional, the power (maximum of FOUR HOURS, by the way, not days) still cannot reach our homes.
So, again: what is the benefit? Where is the cost-benefit analysis to support these proposals?
NIMBY? or objection to a flawed process?
People in communities where battery storage was proposed said they were interested in the concept of the technology, but were concerned about the process created by the IESO. There was little opportunity for public input, as the comments and questions from the public at the proponent meetings don’t go anywhere and are not recorded—no response is necessary from the proponent. As Mr. Darouze pointed out, the process was rushed and provided very little information to both the public and the municipal government, which was expected to evaluate the proposals and grant support.
He said, correctly, that the city’s own assessment process is far more rigorous for any type of development than is required by the IESO. That is not acceptable, many thought.
As McRoberts wrote, what might be branded as NIMBYism is a concern about justice in procedural and approval processes. Much has been written about the public engagement process for energy development in Ontario, and the conclusion is that it has been seriously flawed. Two Auditors General in Ontario said that any energy proposal ought to have a cost-benefit analysis done: this has never happened, and is still not being done.
In his paper, “NIMBYs are not the problem”, Ottawa professor Stewart Fast wrote:
“If conflict is to be minimized and decisions given greater legitimacy, the public must be involved in the process. Unfortunately, Ontario’s approach to building wind generators and other renewable energy projects has ignored this tenet. Instead of more public participation, there has been less. … The approach was designed in the conviction that Ontario’s citizens were not to be trusted, and that anyone opposing wind energy was simply in the grip of NIMBYism. … Policy-makers must realize that not all citizens are selfish NIMBYs.” (Stewart Fast, Policy Options, IRPP.org, 2017)
The way forward in my view is to provide the public and our elected representatives with all the facts we all need to make a responsible, informed decision. One Rideau Lakes resident told Ottawa Wind Concerns, “Last week, I never even heard of BESS. This week, I’m going to meetings and writing letters!” (The project there has been withdrawn in the face of public opposition.)
Battery storage technology on grid-scale is relatively new and already there have been problems. A worldwide database documenting battery fires and failures lists more than 80 events so far. Battery storage developers say there is low risk, but not no risk.
Ottawa Fire Services told ARAC that there is no option but to let a battery fire burn while working to keep other equipment cool and to keep the fire from spreading.
Meanwhile, the emissions from battery fires include carbon monoxide, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, and corrosive nitrogen dioxide. But to the “environmentalists”, their citizen neighbours and fellow rural residents who are concerned about these emissions are NIMBYs?
We ask, if the people and organizations who claim to want to help with climate change and protect the environment do NOT support protection of health, safety, and sanctity of the ecosystem, what IS their agenda?