Indigenous Success Stories

Business and Reconciliation (92)

Ontario has just unveiled the largest electrical-grid battery project in Canada

February 10, 2023

Oneida Energy project will be made up of lithium-ion batteries, much like ones that power cellphones, laptops and electric vehicles but much bigger.

Oneida Energy project will be made up of lithium-ion batteries, much like ones that power cellphones, laptops and electric vehicles but much bigger.

Toronto Star: OHSWEKEN, Ont.—It’s clean. It’s green. And it’s being hailed as an act of reconciliation between Canada’s settler and Indigenous populations. The 250-megawatt Oneida Energy storage project, announced Friday, will mean Ontario’s polluting gas plants aren’t turned on as often, helping the climate while also saving electricity ratepayers money.

And the largest energy storage project in Canada will provide 20 years of revenue to the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River. “It’s going to bring investments and jobs,” said Chief Mark Hill. “But the bigger picture is that it’s going to help all Ontarians. “We need to get into these types of projects yesterday, years ago, in order to be able to protect the overall health and safety of everybody — the human race.”

The grid-scale battery farm will be made up of lithium-ion batteries, much like the ones that power cellphones, laptops and electric vehicles — only much bigger. When deployed, the batteries will provide enough electricity to power a city the size of Oshawa.

When it goes online in 2025, the project will more than double the amount of energy storage currently on Ontario’s grid from 225 megawatts to 475 megawatts. “This is incredibly important to making sure our grid is as efficient as possible,” said Energy Minister Todd Smith.

More than 30,000 wind and solar-generation projects are scattered around the province, supplying 17 per cent of the electricity used annually. But that production is intermittent, only happening when the sun shines and the wind blows, and not always when the power is needed. That’s why batteries and other electricity storage options are expected to play such a big role in the future — one that will grow as more renewables are added to the grid. 

“This is what we need to store that power so we’re not shipping it off to neighbouring jurisdictions at a loss,” said Smith. “We’ll be able to capture that power and use it during peak demand times to help make our system more efficient and benefit ratepayers.”

The project received $50 million from the federal government and another $170 million from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank. It will be co-owned by the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corp., Northland Power and NRStor, a pioneering battery storage company. 

“When I started to look for the market for energy storage, there wasn’t any,” said NRStor CEO Annette Verschuren. After four years of negotiations with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and the province, the regulations were established for battery farms to sell electricity into the grid just like nuclear or natural gas generators.

“Someone had to be first,” she said. 

The stage is now set for many more battery projects that could go a long way to decarbonizing Ontario’s electricity system, as the province has announced it will procure an additional 2,500 megawatts of grid-scale energy storage.  “It’s really easy. It’ll be the best tool in the toolbox for the IESO,” Verschuren said. “It will be able to do things that no straight generator can do.”

Not only do the batteries convert renewable energy into on-demand energy, they also reduce the province’s reliance on natural gas peaker plants, so called because they only turn on when demand is highest. Now non-emitting batteries can be used instead. 

Nevertheless, the province is moving forward with plans to build 1,500 megawatts of new natural gas plants after the IESO determined they would be necessary to meet growing demand for electricity without resorting to rotating blackouts. A recent report found, however, that new renewable electricity projects coupled with battery storage can provide electricity more cheaply than gas peaker plants

The Oneida Energy storage project is expected to reduce Ontario’s grid emissions by between 2.2 million to 4.1 million tonnes, the equivalent to taking up to 40,000 cars off the road, the province said in a statement.  But the project alone won’t be enough to stop the rising emissions from the electricity sector — set to increase by more than 700 per cent by 2040.

Premier Doug Ford often refers to Ontario’s grid as clean because it is more than 90 per cent non-emitting, but fails to mention that it has become more polluting since he took office. “We need to continue to find ways to keep our energy supply clean and green so we can strengthen the Ontario advantage,” he said Friday.

This spring, the federal government has said it will unveil clean electricity regulations that will mandate 100 per cent non-emitting grids nationwide by 2035.

Six Nations has already invested in almost one gigawatt of renewable generation and sees the battery storage product as the next logical step. “We take the highest and best use of what we have before we go and build more,” said Matt Jamieson, president and CEO of Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corp. “That’s part of a sustainable mindset.”

Battery storage projects like these are wins for the economy, for the environment and for Indigenous people, said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland at Friday’s launch. 

“Canada is an amazing country. But we have an original sin and reconciliation is the path forward. I absolutely believe that Indigenous prosperity, built through projects like this one, is an essential part of the path to reconciliation.”

Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based reporter covering climate change for the Star. Reach him via email: