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Malahat Nation to build large battery-systems factory

The nation plans to build the 100,000-square-foot facility to build battery energy storage systems at its 52-acre business park on reserve land adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway

The Malahat First Nation is ­preparing to build a 100,000-square-foot facility for battery energy storage systems.

The massive facility would be constructed at a 52-acre business park on reserve land adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway.

The joint venture with ­Vancouver-based Energy Plug Technologies involves assembling battery energy storage systems to be used by ­governments, corporations and consumers who are shifting to electricity and green energy.

Tristan Gale, executive director of environment and sustainable development for the Malahat First Nation, said it’s a step toward becoming a leader in economic development in a sustainable manner.

“And hopefully it becomes a model that can be replicated in other First Nations across B.C. and across Canada,” he said.

The company that will assemble the storage systems will be majority owned by the Malahat, with the balance controlled by Energy Plug.

The Malahat First Nation is responsible for building the structure, while Energy Plug is expected to fund the build-out of the facility’s internal systems and departments — offices, engineering, robotics, research and development.

Broderick Gunning, chief executive of Energy Plug, said the company has a 25-year plan to become established as a leader in providing energy-storage capacity to countries in need.

Gunning said it already has more than $1 billion in pre-sales on the books and expects to be doing light assembly at Malahat over the next 12 months while the facility is built.

He hopes to be into mass production of the storage systems in the second quarter of 2025, when the facility is up and running.

The joint venture anticipates creating about 100 jobs at the facility, where it hopes to eventually produce 10-gigawatt hours of storage capacity annually. In its first year, the facility is expected to produce 100 megawatts of battery packs and 1,000 megawatts by its fifth year.

Gale could not give a construction cost estimate for the project, but said the Malahat First Nation intends to finance it internally and use construction industry partners to provide the building envelope.

“It’s a very similar business model to what we’ve currently built with Thales, which is building a warehouse here in the business park for the Canadian Navy,” said Gale.

Thales’ facility at the business park will be used to oversee the refit, repair and maintenance of the fleet involved in the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship/Joint Support Ship In-Service Support program.

Instead of co-ordinating ship maintenance, the latest massive facility will be where imported lithium-iron-phosphate battery cells are manufactured into battery storage packs.

The lithium-iron-phosphate technology is expected to offer cost-effective, lifespan and safety advantages over other battery chemistries.

“We’re quite excited about it, especially doing it on the Island and with Malahat,” said Gunning, who called it a game-changer for Canada.

Gunning said governments have been pushing net-zero policies for years, while there has been a massive investment in electrification. But he said the grid may not be able to support it all.

He said Energy Plug, which had been focused on software development and artificial intelligence, pivoted 18 months ago to focus on energy storage infrastructure to ensure an efficient, effective and stable grid with the use of AI, software and hardware.

“[The grid] can’t support AI processing, it can’t support electric vehicle charging — the only way to create stability and something of grid augmentation is through integrating storage,” he said.

“We are not only advancing a critical technology solution for the industry but also expediting the energy transition in Canada and North America alongside our partners at Malahat Nation.”

A report from storage advocate Energy Storage Canada in 2022 noted the country will need a minimum of eight to 12 GW of energy storage to ensure Canada achieves its 2035 goals of net-zero emissions for the electricity sector.

At the time, it also noted national installed capacity of energy storage was less than one GW.

It believes energy storage systems can help level out supply in cities, help avoid the cost of transmission system upgrades and bring some balance to the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.

Gunning said the model established at Malahat could be replicated at other First Nations communities across the country.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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