November 17, 2023
It has been a very busy few weeks at City Hall and around West Carleton-March when it comes to municipal affairs.
First, Council was presented the work that has been done so far on the new Solid Waste Master Plan and the various options being considered as a city. Our municipally owned landfill site at Trail Road is quickly approaching the end of its life span, and we will need to make consequential decisions on the future of solid waste management in our city.
I am part of a small group of councillors that has been meeting with staff in Public Works to provide input and feedback as the new strategy is established and am happy to see several options that the City is considering including Waste to Energy Incineration, Mixed Waste Processing, as well as Anaerobic Digestion for organic waste. All of these strategies and technologies come with increased costs, and each has advantages and challenges. But whichever we choose will extend the life of our landfill by diverting waste and reducing GHG emissions, and will be a much more economical option to building another landfill. There will be many more discussions to be had in this regard, and I would like to hear your thoughts and feedback. More information on the City’s Solid Waste strategy and options moving forward can be found here: https://engage.ottawa.ca/solid-waste-master-plan
Over the last two weeks, I was involved in close to 40 hours of delegations, presentations, and debates on the future of Lansdowne Park. What was positioned by some, mostly from the Glebe, as a divisive project or a handout to rich developers ended in a 16-9 vote at Council. I believe in this case, rational and sound analysis won the day. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group are our partners and have ensured that our city not only keeps its OHL and CFL teams but also provides venues for professional soccer, basketball, and soon our PWHL hockey team.
These facilities are City-owned assets that, according to independent auditors, are now functionally obsolete, inefficient, not accessible to people with disabilities, and at the point that we are losing out on opportunities to host mid-scale events. In its current state, Lansdowne generates $300 million of economic activity in our City and employs thousands of people. With the improvements to the site, our city will attract more events and is expected to generate an additional $100 million per year in economic opportunities for the city and region. Much has been made of the costs associated with the project, and I certainly looked at this closely. However, most of the costs will be offset by revenue generated for the City through rent, ticket sales, and selling air rights on the property.
As a councillor who shares many of my residents’ concerns and feelings surrounding the city’s LRT debacle, I do completely understand that residents of the City of Ottawa are now wary of public-private partnerships and investments of this size with the promise that it will be great for the City. I approached this debate with skepticism, but I did keep an open mind and took every opportunity to meet with finance and planning staff. After much careful consideration, I decided that the investment was necessary for our city and, in the end, will be the most prudent economically as well, with the yearly cost of maintenance for the current structure at $12 Million annually. It will cost the City less each year to finance this project when revenues are factored in. I am also very comforted by the fact this was not a decision to go ahead with the project. It was simply Council’s approval of the parameters in which the City and OSEG will work to advance the plan and design of the new facilities. Once that is complete, staff will present the design with a more refined Class B costing estimate for the next round of Council approval. I, along with many other councillors, have been clear that my support for this project is not absolute. If there are concerns amongst Ward 5 residents that are not addressed properly when the more detailed plan is presented, I can and will reconsider my support.
Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS)
There has been much talk in our community about Battery Energy Storage Systems, commonly called BESS. Over the last several weeks, I have been made aware of 3 different proposals situated in Ward 5 being brought forward to the IESO for consideration. As I have mentioned in previous statements, I am not opposed to the use of this technology. In fact, I believe that electricity storage will be vital in strengthening our power grid and essential to diversifying our energy sources through renewable energy sources. Last spring, I brought forward a motion that passed and did provide municipal support for a BESS system in our ward. However, the size of that proposed system was very small, being placed at a site that already had a small solar farm, no trees were being cut down, the proponent held multiple public meetings, and no concerns were raised amongst residents in the area. Given its minimal size, the good consultation work undertaken by the applicant, and the lack of public concern, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to see how these systems work and gauge the risks on a small scale.
The applications we are currently looking at are due in early December, yet the applicants waited until the last several weeks to engage with the public. One of the applicants has not held a public meeting or had any communication with my office, so they certainly are not getting my support. The result of these poor consultation decisions is that we are basically out of time to address the numerous and legitimate concerns in a real and meaningful way. At recent meetings, the community had some basic questions around fire safety, direct benefits to the community, the effect on wildlife and wetlands on or around the property in question, and end of life plans for the units. I don’t believe the answers provided had the level of detail, clarity, or certainty required to gain public support and put concerns at ease.
As I have stated, I am not fundamentally opposed to these systems and think the idea of storing power overnight when demand is low and using it during peak demand instead of selling it to the US at a loss is a good idea. But, I also place a lot of value on public consultation and respect for the community in which these companies wish to operate, and given that this technology is relatively new and that there have been serious documented challenges with these projects around the world, my expectation would be that consultation would be meaningful and respectful. In one case, the application hasn’t bothered at all, and in the other two, they clearly missed the mark when it comes to engaging the community and ensuring their concerns are addressed.
I really would like to support one of these projects as I believe in the idea and see the need. I also believe these companies should have come to the table six months ago to be able to answer questions in a detailed fashion and be prepared to present the necessary information and solutions ready to put in place. Many of these groups had not engaged with the Ottawa Fire Services before presenting to the public, and fire is a genuine concern with this technology. They also were astoundingly unable to explain to the community what they were getting in return for having this in their neighborhood or even how the tax uplift would work, given that the site would be taking up only a portion of privately held land. To put it bluntly, all three applicants were unprepared to address the concerns and questions of the community, which gives the sense that public consultation as an aspect of these projects is just a box to tick as part of their standard process. That’s not good enough for the people of West Carleton-March, and any company wishing to get our community’s support, or support from me as Councillor in the future, will come to the community much earlier and much more prepared; otherwise, they can expect the same response.
Not all of the feedback I have gotten about these systems has been negative, and I will soon be meeting with a group of people in our ward who support these systems. I look forward to that and future conversations with the community on how and where we can make these work. I will be supporting a Municipal Support Resolution for a BESS system close to the Trail Road Landfill Site in Ward 21, as will the ward councillor. Residents in that ward feel that it is an appropriate place for a system such as this, particularly in the early days of this technology when comprehensive solutions to the challenges they pose are still being refined and perfected.
One very discouraging aspect of this is the amount of misinformation that I saw referenced in the discussions on social media about BESS systems. I read one post indicating that the IESO was a Saudi investment company. I saw people referring to BESS as a company rather than an acronym for a Battery Energy Storage System. There were insinuations that this was all funded by taxpayer dollars when, in fact, they are entirely private endeavors. I saw statements to the effect that if approved, they would expand beyond the footprint being discussed, which is simply untrue, with people saying all this power “just goes to Toronto.” I saw many referring to all of the systems as lithium-ion when, in fact, the presentation at the first meeting clearly stated they were not using that technology. There were many more mind-boggling statements based on untrue assumptions.
I want to encourage everyone to ensure you are informed and have done your research so that our debates and discussions are based on facts and reality rather than just fear of the unknown. This experience was another reminder of how we all need to do better regarding respectful public conversations. I was unhappy to see the residents who dare stand up to support these projects often shouted down or disrespected, which is unacceptable. Usually, the people engaging in this behavior are the least informed but the most opinionated, perpetuating the current negativity surrounding public and political debates. We all have a role to play in ensuring respectful and informed conversations.
Passion is a good thing, and passion for what happens in our community can go far in improving it. It is one of the things that makes living in West Carleton–March so great and makes our community so strong. People love living here. People are proud to be from here. What we need to be wary of is when that passion gets in the way of respectful debate in a venue that should encourage constructive discussion and cooperation. Disagreements with neighbours happen, but when we turn our backs on our neighbours and see their actions and ideas as being driven by some ill intent, we lose that sense of community that so many of us are so proud of, including me.
Thank you to everyone who has engaged in respectful dialogue over the last several weeks on these important issues. As always, it is a pleasure and honour to serve as your Councillor.
City Of Ottawa Councillor
Ward 5 | West Carleton-March