All you need is 10 acres — and a few spare years

In this week’s newsletter, Ontario reporter Fatima Syed takes us on a short road trip with some throwback tunes, talking about a battery farm project that could be the future of Canada’s energy supply

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“Two hours south of Toronto, a little past Six Nations, it’s just grids on grids on grids.”

Back in May, Ontario reporter Fatima Syed went to Haldimand County to check out 10 acres of land that could house the future of Canada’s energy supply.

She was there to learn about the Oneida Energy Storage Project — set to be the country’s largest battery storage farm — which had become a regular reference by Ontario politicians last year, in particular by Energy Minister Todd Smith.

When all her attempts to interview the minister were fruitless, Fatima decided to skip the hurdles, blast some early 2000s music, and drive down directly to the project with photographer Alex Jacobs-Blum instead — a trip that one senior energy official in charge of policy told her he still hadn’t made himself.

Co-owned by Six Nations of the Grand River and woman-led company NRStor, the farm could house just enough batteries (278 to be exact) in two years to power a city the size of Oshawa, Ont. And in doing so, it will also be one of the largest projects to put calls to reconciliation into motion.

“Energy will never be the same again,” Matt Jamieson, president and CEO of Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation, told Fatima.
Matt Jamieson and Annette Verschuren, speak at Oneida Energy Storage in Haldimand County. Ontario
But getting the Ford government — which has quashed clean energy initiatives and ramped up natural gas production — to greenlight Oneida was no easy undertaking. Now, after “years of pain and suffering,” there’s widespread approval and celebration: the battery farm is under construction. 

Currently around 92 per cent of Ontario’s energy is emissions-free, and the hope is that Oneida can help maintain that by making existing generation more efficient and future renewable generation more reliable.

“Everyone I spoke to said Oneida is changing the future of energy policy: who can shape it, who can control it, who can innovate it, and ultimately, who the power goes to,” Fatima told me.

As the climate emergency continues to demand creative solutions, Fatima will be standing by to see what lessons Canada can learn from Oneida — once it comes to life. 

Take care and take a trip to the future,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor

Emma McIntosh (right) and Denise Balkissoon accepting an award

Sipping out of silver bowls

Our pod was already celebrating as the Canadian Journalism Foundation awards ceremony began in Toronto on Tuesday night: the foundation had announced a few winners in the spring, and we knew we were among them. But we didn’t expect to go home as the most decorated news organization in the country, taking home a total of three trophies — or, to be specific, big silver bowls — for some of our favourite stories of 2022. 

The big surprise was the Climate Solutions Reporting prize for a series of stories on Indigenous-led conservation in B.C. (Read them here: the Mamalilikulla’s long journey home; Squamish Nation’s battle to reconnect a fractured estuary; and the growing impact of Guardians.)

“To me, these stories show solutions journalism isn’t about pie-in-the-sky dreaming,” B.C. reporter Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood said. “Indigenous conservation has always been. It’s a tried and true solution. These stories show the power in all these communities to be constantly pushing for better.”

On Tuesday night — and always! — we thanked The Narwhal’s 5,000-plus members for making non-profit in-depth and investigative journalism in Canada a reality. — Denise Balkissoon, Ontario bureau chief 


This week in The Narwhal

Aerial view of Donnie Creek wildfire
In B.C.’s bone-dry northeast, what happens when wildfires and fracking collide?
By Sarah Cox
The Donnie Creek wildfire, the second-largest ever recorded in the province’s history, is burning in one of the world’s biggest gas deposits, suspending fracking operations and raising questions about potential dangers to human health.

A firefighter works to suppress the massive Shaw fire
‘Why didn’t they stop this fire?’ Métis community reeling after planned protected area goes up in flames
By Michelle Cyca
Pixelated image of wildfire
It isn’t arson: untangling climate misinformation around Canada’s raging wildfires
By Drew Anderson & Fatima Syed
A playground in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood sits adjacent to a vacant industrial lot
‘A toxic soup’: why a Winnipeg neighbourhood is fighting for its right to a healthy environment
By Julia-Simone Rutgers
A red painted X on top of the first page of a document.
Ontario is ignoring internal advice that supported Indigenous-led conservation
By Emma McIntosh

What we’re reading

Patsy Gessey, a market gardener in Lytton, B.C., tells the story of escaping two blazes and planting seeds of hope to The Tyee and the Climate Disaster Project.

Vox’s Umair Irfan writes about climate-linked disasters — and how they don’t always change public opinion.
Fatima listening to Sk8er Boi by Avril Lavigne on her way to check out an energy project much cooler than her playlist. Call up your friends who don’t already know about The Narwhal and tell them to sign up for our newsletter so they can get a back stage view into our reporting process.
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