‘How do I say ‘no’ to this?’ Stirling crowd takes control of Liberty Power open house

Stirling community members came out in droves to question Liberty Power on their choice to consider the village for a battery energy storage system. Photo: Emma Persaud

What was supposed to be a meet-and-greet information night with Liberty Power turned into a formal question-and-answer period through the pressure of the Stirling participants.

The four employees of Liberty Power, an energy company looking to build an electrical storage facility in the village, found themselves on a small stage in the Stirling Lions Club Hall facing down a crowd that was ready to interrogate the team.

“Well, we heard from enough of you that you were expecting a Q&A period, so we thought we’d set that up so we can answer all your questions together,” said Henry Hawkins, project manager for Liberty Power.

Liberty Power is a company that is working to set up energy storage facilities at the behest of the Independent Electricity System Operator, a not-for-profit company under the direction of the Ministry for Energy. According to Liberty Power’s team, the IESO is asking companies to come up with ideas to prepare for Ontario’s growing electrical needs as the province moves away from natural gas and into more electrified methods of heating homes, driving cars, and other daily tasks. Liberty Power is one such company that is working with the idea of saving excess energy from the grid now in order to have it available later. This would be the first facility of its kind for the company.

Stirling was one of many chosen sites for a battery energy storage system, due to having ease of access to HydroOne transmission lines on Hoards Road and Bedford Road approximately 2 kilometres outside the main village centre. Liberty Power intends to use large lithium ion batteries to house the energy. And the residents of Stirling made it clear they do not want it in their community.

While the Liberty Power team worked to maintain control over the room, questions from Stirling citizens were numerous – the Q&A ran for an hour and 40 minutes – and often met with disappointment in the answers. Many of the questions focused on the environmental impact of the plant, which Liberty Power describes as beneficial to Ontario’s electricity production.

The community members, however, questioned if the benefits outweighed the potential risks and the ethical creation of the lithium ion batteries the company is planning to use to store the electricity. At least three community members asked where the rare metals used to make the batteries would come from; the team said it would depend on who won the bid to sell batteries to Liberty Power.

On a more local level there were concerns about what would happen if there was an accident at the facility, what would happen to the batteries if Liberty went bankrupt, how the batteries would be recycled when their lifespan was complete and how the temperature of the facility would be maintained. Community members asked for the results of environmental studies on the impact on farm animals, water supplies and farmland. They also asked how Liberty planned to handle a potential fire if the batteries overheated – a situation one community member said the Stirling Fire Department was not equipped to handle.

Again, Liberty had no clear responses. Though they stated an internal analysis has been done to comply with provincial environmental regulations, they also explained that such detailed environmental studies had not yet been done and would not be done until their bid for the land was approved. This did not appease the crowd:

“You expect us to agree to this without even knowing the impact on our farms,” asked one resident. “Our livelihoods?”

Another resident stood up and said, “I just have one question: how do I say ‘no’ to this?” His question was met with resounding cheers from the crowd. When Quinteist asked the Liberty Power employees for their impressions of the meeting, they refused to comment.

Quinteist is now working to find the answers to some of the questions posed by the residents of Stirling before Nov. 20, when Stirling-Rawdon’s council will be voting on whether the project will go ahead or not. Stirling resident Michael Thompson, who lives next to the prospective site, said he is requesting that council have the meeting in the Lions Club Hall in order to allow more community members to attend and make their opinions known before the vote takes place.

Stay tuned for more.

Stirling community members came out in droves to question Liberty Power on their choice to consider the village for a battery energy storage system. Photo: Emma Persaud

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