Battery storage facility proposed near Frank Lake, a recognized Important Bird Area

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A Calgary-based company is proposing to build a battery storage facility near High River, but nearby residents say the project should be rejected by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) due to its proximity to a wetland recognized as an Important Bird Area.

Enfinite plans to submit a proposal this spring to the AUC for a 100-megawatt, four-hour duration battery storage facility on land near Frank Lake, east of High River. Lithium-phosphate batteries would be contained in 105 sea cans, with the facility having a total footprint of four hectares. 

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Taylor Smith, Enfinite’s vice president of corporate strategy, says Alberta’s need for more energy storage was highlighted in January, when the province faced grid alerts and the Alberta Electric Systems Operator urged Albertans to conserve power.

“This facility would act as a contingency to help for sudden supply losses,” said Smith.

Key to the proposed location is the proximity of a substation roughly a kilometre away, he said. The first location Enfinite looked at would have required an additional 15 kilometres of transmission line.

“We want to minimize the amount of transmission line that would have been added,” said Smith, who declined to disclose the project project.

While some energy storage projects also built alongside solar panels or wind turbines, this facility would not include either.

To help prevent groundwater leakage, underneath the sea cans would be a gravel pad and containment units, which can hold 1.5 times the amount of liquid within a battery.

Enfinite, which currently has nine energy storage facilities in Alberta totalling 180 megawatts, will submit extensive environmental studies as part of its Alberta Utilities Commission application, said Smith.

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Smith says Enfinite’s consultations have gone beyond what’s required by the AUC, which mandates that notification is provided to any residents living within 800 metres of the facility. The company has presented to Foothills County council and held meetings with county staff, been “quite active” in responding to local residents’ questions, and held an open house recently at the public’s request, he said.

“We’re hoping that we can work to provide more information about the facility and if the project goes through to work with them to be a good corporate neighbour and to provide comfort that the facility will not have any adverse impacts to the nearby residents or the environment that it’s operating in,” said Smith.

Amy Marcotte, who has started a Facebook group opposed to the battery storage facility, said her main concern is how close the proposed project would be to Frank Lake, recognized as one of Canada’s Important Bird Areas as well as one of the country’s Key Biodiversity Areas.

“Battery storage has many, if not more, risks then a solar project, and they want this right beside this area. This is unacceptable, and (is) fueling rural citizens’ anger with these types of projects, (whether) it be solar, wind, (or) battery,” said Marcotte in an email to Postmedia. “These companies just come in and don’t listen and just do as they please, all for money.”

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Marcotte said she was also involved in stopping a proposed 600-hectare solar project in the High River area from being built. Last year, the Alberta Utilities Commission rejected the Foothills Solar Project, citing potential negative effects on bird populations. 

Any company planning to build an industrial project, as Marcotte called the battery storage facility, “right beside this internationally recognized and sensitive beauty is going to have a fight on their hands with us,” said Marcotte, a resident of Blackie, a hamlet east of High River. 

A spokesperson for Ducks Unlimited Canada, which is involved in the conservation management of Frank Lake, told Postmedia the wetlands protection group is aware of the battery storage project but that it would be “premature” to comment because Ducks Unlimited has yet to see any detailed plans or environmental assessments. 

Frank Lake provides valuable wildlife habitat and “recreational value” to the surrounding community, said the Ducks Unlimited spokesperson in an email.

According to the IBA Canada website, Frank Lake supports significant numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds during both spring and fall migration, and is considered the most important wetland in southwestern Alberta for breeding water birds. 

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