Northland Power business development director John Wright overlooks the Marmora mine site, where the company plans to build an artificial waterfall that would pump water into a reservoir when electricity prices are low, and let it fall to a powerhouse below to generate electricity when prices are high. (Shawn McCarthy /The Globe and Mail)

In eastern Ontario, a battery five times the size of Niagara Falls

MARMORA, Ont. — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Feb. 19 2013, 3:32 PM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013, 7:17 AM EST

On the wind-swept ridge of a mountainous slag heap, Northland Power Inc. plans to construct a miniature Niagara Falls to store power and provide it to Ontario’s grid when the province’s proliferating wind turbines are asleep.

For 24 years, U.S.-based Bethlehem Steel Corp. pulled iron ore from an open-pit mine a dozen kilometres south of this town of 6,400, situated halfway between Ottawa and Toronto. When the mine was closed in 1979, the company left a gaping hole that is now filled with water. Above the pit, vast piles of boulders and crushed rocks lie where they were discarded after the ore had been extracted.

Toronto-based Northland is proposing a $700-million, “pumped storage” hydroelectric project that would create a waterfall five times the height of Niagara Falls – though with a fraction of the volume – descending from the slag mountain to the mine pit below.

To operate the plant, Northland plans to purchase electricity from Ontario’s grid at night when prices are low and use it to pump water from the mine pit up to a newly constructed reservoir. During the day, the company would release the water for a 258-metre plunge to a powerhouse and generate 400-megawatts of power to take advantage of peak-time power prices when demand is high and wind turbines typically are less active.

Efficient technology to store electricity has become the holy grail for the power system as it copes with increasing production from intermittent sources such as wind and solar, and dramatic swings in demand. Some experts have dubbed storage the “missing link” that would allow renewable operators to generate their electricity under the most favourable conditions and dispatch it when it is needed most.

Read more: In eastern Ontario, a battery five times the size of Niagara Falls – The Globe and Mail.

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