Santa Paula could soon be on the frontline of an emerging trend in energy storage: putting power into large batteries to use in an emergency or when electricity supplies run low.
Folsom-based ZGlobal Power Engineering and Energy Solutions has applied to the city of Santa Paula for a permit to build a battery storage facility at 132 N. 13th St., next to a Southern California Edison substation just north of the city’s Main Street. The project would consist of up to 20 large, self-contained batteries charged by an acre of solar panels placed above them, city planning consultant Chris Williamson said.
Power from the solar panels would be stored in the batteries until Edison needs to use it, Williamson said. That could happen because of energy shortages elsewhere in the grid, or because of a disruption to the region’s electricity infrastructure, such as from a forest fire or earthquake.
“This is a backup,” Williamson said. “It is a benefit in the sense that, should there be some regional power problem, that facility would kick in, and because it’s connected to the local grid right there, the power would immediately go out to the houses and the people.”
ZGlobal initially plans to build storage capacity to power about 5,000 households for at least four hours. Once expanded to the full capacity, it could power 20,000 households for that time period, said Pedro Nava, a ZGlobal consultant and former state Assembly member.
The project is anticipated to cost between $15 million and $20 million, which would be privately funded, he said.
Battery storage represents a new and growing trend in California, fueled by swift advances in technology and a push by the state to plug vulnerabilities in the energy grid. The Santa Paula project is unusual because it uses solar panels. ZGlobal recently opened a battery storage facility in El Centro, but that location stores power from a neighboring gas-fired plant, Nava said.
“This is clearly the advent of a new direction,” he said. “Solar panels are non-emissive, they are relatively easy to maintain, and they are very efficient. And so you have the benefits of generating power with a solar panel that doesn’t pollute the environment, and then storing that energy in batteries that don’t pollute the environment, and so it is better for the community as a whole.”
The project is under environmental review and is expected to go before the city’s planning commission in late May or June, Williamson said, adding that if the commission grants a permit, construction would likely begin later in the year.
It’s not clear what impact, if any, the battery facility might have on the approval chances of a separate proposal by Calpine Corp. to build a natural-gas fired “peaker plant” two miles west of Santa Paula. That plant would supply power to the grid during times of peak demand. The project, under review by the California Energy Commission, has faced widespread criticism from the community and city officials, who maintain it will be an eyesore and harmful to health and the environment.
Williamson said the peaker plant would be much larger and supply power to a broader area than the battery storage facility. It also could provide electricity indefinitely, whereas the batteries would run out of energy after a period of time and need to be recharged, he said.
Even so, Nava said the growth in battery storage solutions could lead to a decline in gas-fired peaker plants over the long run, even if it doesn’t impact Santa Paula directly.
“Fundamentally, the more energy that we have available in battery projects like this one, the less need there’ll be for those dirty, polluting peaker plants,” he said.
Battery Storage Facility Proposed for Santa Paula, by Claudia Boyd-Barrett, Ventura County Star, April 13, 2017.