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BLUEWATER – A green energy project in Bluewater is drawing the attention of the community as preparations are being made to move ahead with a proposed compressed air energy storage facility.

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An open house was held at the Stanley Community Centre in Varna on Tuesday, July 25, where representatives of Bedrock Energy Corp., the group behind the proposal, were available to answer questions about the project, how the technology works and how the planned facility will impact the surrounding areas.

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The proposal – the first of its kind both for Bedrock and Ontario – aims to make use of two depleted natural gas reservoirs that sit almost 460 metres beneath the surface for energy storage. The technology compresses air using excess energy and then releases and heats the air when energy demand is high to drive turbine generators without the use of fossil fuels.

Compressed air energy storage can be used to reduce the amount of energy lost from sources such as wind and solar, which can often provide inconsistent levels of energy generation due to natural conditions. When a surplus of energy is produced, it is often wasted or sold to the United States.

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The largest of the two reservoirs sits beneath Mill Road between Bayfield and Varna, while the smaller reservoir is north of Staffa Road and west of Goshen Line. If fully operational, the reservoirs could store a combined 520 megawatts, which is enough to power 624,000 homes for as long as eight hours.

Each reservoir would be connected to an estimated 48.5-hectare (120-acre) facility proposed to be built near Goshen Line to the south of County Road 3. The facility is being designed to have an operation life of more than 40 years.

A map showing the two reservoir locations and the facility's planned location.
The compressed air energy facility would utilize two depleted natural gas reservoirs to store compressed air. Handout

Bedrock estimates the project could save taxpayers about $100 million annually, or $5 billion throughout the project’s lifespan. Company officials also estimate the project could create more than 800 jobs in the province, as well as about 40 full-time positions once the facility is operational.

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Facilities using compressed air energy storage technology have existed in McIntosh, Alabama and Huntorf, Germany, for decades, though both use salt caverns in their operation. Similar projects using depleted gas reservoirs are being explored around the globe as countries seek to find energy storage solutions while they aim to introduce more green energy sources.

To ensure the Bluewater facility can operate safely, Bedrock plans to inject heavy nitrogen into the reservoirs to displace any remaining natural gas and mitigate the risk of combustion.

But some members of the community voiced concerns during the open house about how the proposal could impact the surrounding communities, and whether the facility would be safe for the environment. Those concerns ranged from noise levels produced by the facility to the loss of agricultural lands in Bluewater.

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The facility would be required to comply with noise level regulations, which would limit nighttime noise levels to 40 decibels, or the equivalent of a quiet conversation. Once the facility has reached the end of its estimated 40-year lifespan, Bedrock is also proposing that it will be decommissioned, and the land will return to agricultural use.

Though the project’s timeline is reliant on contracts and approvals, estimates from Bedrock have claimed the facility would be operational by 2028 at the earliest. Its next stages will include the completion of an environmental assessment, as well as a public review period of the assessment once it’s finished.

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