Local authority approval for 2,000MW California mixed Li-ion and flow battery energy storage project

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Copper Mountain Solar in Nevada, part of Con Edison Development’s 3GW portfolio of solar PV projects in the US. Image: Con Edison Development.

A permit has been granted by local authorities in California for a battery storage project of up to 2,000MW output, which could host both lithium-ion and flow battery systems. 

The Board of Supervisors of Imperial County voted unanimously at a meeting on 7 December to grant a conditional use plan for the large-scale Westside Canal Battery Storage Project proposed by Con Edison Development. 

The development subsidiary of vertically integrated energy company Consolidated Edison Inc has secured a 163 acre site of agricultural land which has been left fallow, unused for farming for around 20 years. The project’s battery energy storage system (BESS) equipment would occupy around 148 acres of the site, while Con Edison will also build a bridge across the nearby canal to enable access. 

The board’s representatives for the county’s five districts heard that the project, which Con Edison Development began submitting documents regarding the development of in April 2020, would be built in phases over 10 years. 

Each phase could be anywhere between 25MW and 300MW, depending on what the market dictates, and on what opportunities are available at that time for securing long-term contracts, Con Edison business development director Curtis Taylor said. 

Likely to host a combination of lithium-ion and flow battery technology, the BESS will be interconnected to the grid at Imperial Valley Substation, which Taylor pointed out is strategically important as it as a juncture, which sends power out in various directions within California and into neighbouring states. 

The meeting came after an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was completed. The EIR found that the project would not have a significant impact on the environment, and water impact assessment work has also been carried out. 

The Westside project would employ around 200 workers at the peak of its construction as well as creating between five and 10 permanent employment opportunities once in operation, Curtis Taylor said. 

It would also bring “millions” of dollars in tax revenue to the county, create economic development in the region and new roads would be built around it, in addition to the new canal bridge and other infrastructure. 

It will increase the local utilisation of existing and new solar energy generation. Cristina Marquez, a local representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), speaking at the public consultation meeting said that not only is battery storage critical for moving the state away from fossil fuels, the project and others like it can create well-paid, unionised jobs.

With it also being built in phases, this offers the potential for sustained employment in the region, Marquez said, urging county supervisors to move the project forward with their approval. 

One board member asked Taylor how the site, for which Con Edison paid US$16,000 in property taxes last year, could generate the millions of property taxes he spoke of. The business development director replied that once the multi-million dollar battery facility was on the site, its value and therefore property tax bill would rise. 

Raymond Castillo, chair of Imperial County’s Fifth District, said that it was important battery projects are built to enable the evening use of solar energy. He also pointed out that solar PV projects are exempt from property taxes, while battery storage projects aren’t. Castillo welcomed the influx of tax dollars it would bring to the region.  

Consolidated Edison Development has to date installed and put into operation 100MW of BESS in the US, with a pipeline close to 1GWh in construction, in addition to the 3GW of solar PV projects and 500MW of wind it has so far. This includes about 800MW of PV in California — 100MW of which is a project in Imperial County, Wistaria Solar, which went online in 2018.  

The project will add to the rapidly growing battery storage capacity of California, although given the state’s climate ambitions and energy shortfall problems during summer peak periods, the growth perhaps cannot come fast enough. Recent developments reported by Energy-Storage.news include a 2.1GWh, three-project portfolio of BESS that will be owned by utility Southern California Edison and a 226MWh build-out of vanadium flow battery storage at solar PV sites by community energy supplier Central Coast Community Energy. 

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