Davies: Community benefit funds

By Jake Davies - West Carleton Online

As the community locks in to Christmas Mode completely, West Carleton Online needs content, so we’re bringing Indubitably to you, almost right on time this month.

Column header for publisher Jake Davies' column indubitably.

The holidays are a time to celebrate, but they are also the time to reflect. And not only did we need the content, we wanted to take a quick look back at the big news of West Carleton the last couple of weeks.

We took a look at the Battery Energy Storage System proposals in last month’s column, but focused mostly on the history and my memories of similar community battles.

That column came out before the city’s Nov. 30 Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee meeting, where the committee separated each of the four BESS proposals and voted on them separately, voting not to support the three West Carleton locations, and voting to provide a municipal support resolution for the Manotick location.

The more than eight-hour meeting was long, and those in attendance opposed to the project were certainly happy with the outcome, but the reality is, this story is far from over.

There were some very note-worthy lessons to come out of that meeting. For one, not getting municipal support only means, those bids do not get the four points awarded to bids that have municipal support when it comes time for the Independent Electricity System Operation (IESO) to make its decision, expected early in the New Year.

The reality is those four points may have very little to no effect on the outcome. IESO is going to approve a certain number of projects regardless. If municipalities choose to not support any of the BESS projects, that makes all the bids equal. If not one project gets those four points, it makes all the projects equal.

Of course, we know that isn’t the case, as some BESS projects have municipal support such as the Manotick project as well as a BESS project south of Almonte, supported by Mississippi Mills council this month.

What we don’t know is how many BESS projects IESO is hoping to get online through this request for proposals. IESO is using a scoring system to pick successful projects. But what if, there are not enough BESS projects with municipal support to fulfill those unknown numbers? Naturally, IESO will just select the next highest scores, which could include BESS projects that did not get municipal support.

We learned earlier this week Evolugen will go ahead with their Fitzroy Harbour BESS bid despite not receiving a municipal support resolution.

So, we don’t know how many BESS projects IESO will approve from the request for proposals that had to be submitted by the Dec. 12 deadline. And we don’t have a great idea on how many projects applied across the province.

But we did learn something of value at the ARAc meeting – what one of these projects could be worth to the community.

In almost a throw-away line from West Carleton Online’s coverage of the Nov. 30 ARAc meeting, we learned one project was willing to provide a multi-year, multi-million dollar community improvement grant.

Potentia Renewables’ Will Patterson, a project manager with the Arnprior BESS proposal (on Old Hwy. 17 in West Carleton), gave us some figures.

In a last-minute effort to woo ARAc Patterson said his company, if its project was approved, would provide a community benefit fund of $150,000 a year for 21 years (roughly $3.1 million over the term) that would be “managed locally, by the Galetta Community Association or something along those lines,” Patterson said at the time.

Coun. Clarke Kelly appreciated the offer, but said it was too late. It was too late to bring that information to the community. He was right, I guess, decisions were being made that very day, but I have never seen $3.1 million turned down so quickly.

Of course, there’s a hitch, a BESS facility, but that money could do a lot of amazing things in West Carleton, even Galetta.

In the heart of the village there is a unique recreation facility not available anywhere else in West Carleton, Kanata, or the Ottawa Valley, the Galetta Lawn Bowls Club. I have never lawn bowled, but I have covered the club and the amazing people who keep it going for decades.

The club just lost a lot of their funding due to new City of Ottawa rules regarding funding community associations and recreation organizations.

The small club may be more than tripling member fees next year in order to survive. The greens are kept in immaculate shape, thanks mostly to volunteer work. The club hosts city, district and provincial matches and even has players that have competed in national events.

This place is a gem that provides recreation from the community’s seniors and could do so for many people of all ages. If only it had lights.

The mostly senior members are finding it harder and harder to play in the heat of the day during the summer months – which of course is when the lawn bowling season happens. Not only that, but it’s hard to attract new, younger members if the club can only schedule programming during working hours.

Lawn bowling clubs in the city are bursting at the seems with new, young members. There is absolutely nowhere to lawn bowl in Renfrew County (Galetta’s neighbour).

What would lighting cost? When club member last priced it roughly last year, about $150,000. The city isn’t going to provide that. The members would spend decades trying to fundraise that, on top of the fundraising they already do to keep the club open. But here is a gift horse that could make the club completely sustainable, not cost a single taxpayer dollar, provide more recreation in the community for everyone including seniors, and help maintain one of West Carleton’s hidden gems.

I could even put up with the park giving up naming rights as part of the deal, perhaps something like MacHardy Green at Potentia Field.

And guess what? Next year you can spend another $150,000 on another community project. And so on and so for roughly 20 years.

I have never publicly stated if I was for or against these BESS projects. I don’t have skin in the game (other than the skin generated by covering these stories). What I do know is development is coming to West Carleton in one form or another. I honestly believe a BESS project will eventually come to the community at some point. Why else would Hydro One have spent the last couple of years increasing capacity at the Arnprior Transmission Station on Old Hwy. 17?

We hope its not too late for West Carleton to get its hands on those community improvement grants. I imagine if Potentia’s bid is still submitted, and approved despite not receiving a municipal support resolution, they probably won’t be offering that $2.3 million to the community.

One thing we heard at all the BESS public meetings we attended over and over again was “what’s in it for the community?”

Well now we know what the ballpark is, and there is a price these businesses are willing to pay to the community. It is substantial and it would get things done in West Carleton current city budgets will never be able to afford or communities will never be able to fundraise.

We now have a negotiating starting point, and it is something that could be a new way of doing business in West Carleton that will have major benefits for the community. It’s something we have to look at.

Top 5 stories for November

November was a heck of month for West Carleton Online as we enjoyed the most pageviews we have enjoyed in the post-Facebook ban era as 19,438 pairs of eyes took a peek at one page or another. Part of that has to do with the bump in growth we experienced last month and part of it has to do with the type of things we covered last month. I didn’t pick the BESS topic out of a hat, and you will see it was a popular topic for our readers.

It’s a clear sign of the importance of community journalism. Aside from a few cursory stories by CTV and CBC, if you wanted to know about the BESS process, what residents thing, what the proponents think and what the politicians think West Carleton Online was really the only independent media covering the issue.

Coun. Clarke Kelly as much as said so at the ARAc meeting, complimenting our coverage and using it when questioning one of the BESS proponents.

Last week The New York Times featured the importance of local journalism.

Academic research has found voter turnout tends to fall, and corruption and political polarization tend to rise, when people have no way to follow local events.

The digital age of media, while perhaps will never be preferred over a paper product, allows for community journalism to survive and do things not seen previously in small communities. Being a digital outlet means breaking stories can be published hours after breaking. Digital means we can publish every day. Digital means there is no limit to the coverage and the number of stories we can do and BESS is a great example of that. From coverage the day after important meetings, to multiple stories on the issue with multiple sources providing background and opinion. In fact, we published 24 stories and opinion pieces on the subject dating back to Oct. 23.

While the new digital media provides a cost efficient and effective way to deliver the news, it’s still not free. To do community news properly takes boots on the ground reporting. While West Carleton Online does many things to remain viable (such as part time jobs) we have still manage to grow our product despite not reaching our revenue goals. We have added reporters and columnists. We’ve been able to do that mostly thanks to the volunteer spirit of our community than creating growth through revenue. As we head towards the end of our fifth year, I want to thank our readers, our supporters and our volunteers. We have been able to build something in West Carleton in terms of community journalism, when all around us, other communities are losing their media outlets. Thank you and all the best in 2024, here are our Top 5 stories for November.

  1. One dead following Sunday morning Carp Road crash (published Nov. 26, 333 pageviews): Emergency news will always be clickbait in the world of community journalism.
  1. Fitzroy crowd opposed to BESS facility (published Nov. 2, 240 pageviews): This wasn’t our first BESS story, but it was the first public meeting and the first opportunity to hear from the community on the issue.
  1. Carp resident one of six arrested in Nov. 9 OPP drug operation (published Nov. 14, 209 pageviews): As noted above already, we knew as soon as we hit the publish button we would see this story in our monthly Top 5 list.
  1. Arnprior BESS not welcome by neighbouring farmers (published Nov. 10, 203 pageviews): Different company, same outcome. I wonder if the response would have been warmer if they offered the $150,000 a year community fund at this meeting rather than at the ARAc meeting.
  1. Buying, selling and living in West Carleton (published Nov. 23, 168 pageviews): Real Estate is watched closely in West Carleton and this story by Nonie Smart gave us a look at current conditions in Ward 5.

And just an FYI, three more BESS stories cracked the Top 6 to 14 most viewed stories in November.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email