State review is moving along for a Canadian-led plan to build a more than $1 billion energy project near Rosamond that would store enough potential electricity to power 400,000 homes for eight hours by releasing compressed air buried below 500 acre-feet of water.
The California Energy Commission voted 4-0 Wednesday to move the project to a more advanced review phase that developer Hydrostor hopes will lead to approval next year and a state subsidy potentially measuring in the tens of millions of dollars.
If it wins approval and gets built during an estimated 4½ years of excavation and construction, the 500-megawatt, emissions-free Gem Energy Storage Center would help California balance its renewable energy production with after-hours demand, addressing one of the biggest challenges to meeting the state’s aggressive climax goals.
Hydrostor proposes using renewable energy sourced nearby to inject deep air underground, where it would be compressed under hydrostatic pressure.
When the power grid needs that potential energy, the California Independent System Operator would throw a switch, and within minutes air is flowing upward to power a turbine that generates electricity for delivery through an interconnection with electrical transmission systems.
The more nuanced part deals with thermodynamic engineering. The company says it would remove heat during compression, store it, then return it upon decompression.
Eastern Kern is in some ways an ideal project location, because billions of dollars in solar and wind power generation have been invested in the same general area and it would be more efficient to store that energy nearby. But as a significant user of water, the project’s desert location could raise eyebrows.
The general manager of the Rosamond Community Services District, Steve Perez, said he was asked whether he’d be willing to sell Hydrostor water for the project on a one-time basis. He didn’t know how much water the company wanted or how it would use it.
“I know that they needed water. That’s all I know,” Perez said, adding that he might entertain an offer if it doesn’t deplete the community’s supply during the drought.
The director of Kern County Planning and Natural Resources, Lorelei Oviatt, said by email her department will coordinate with other county agencies to provide feedback so that any concerns, potentially including quantity and sourcing of water, can be addressed during the energy commission’s review of the project.
The county has so far withheld a recommendation on whether the commission should approve the project, she noted, adding “New technology must fit our community values including supporting our public services.”
Oviatt pointed out the technology has not been applied at such scale and that its operation in Kern would not help the county directly by storing power for users in other counties, though she noted there would be greater benefit from bringing the state power grid into a better balance .
The commission estimated that the certification process that officially began with Wednesday’s vote is expected to take 12 months, during which time staff will examine the project’s potential health and safety impacts, reliability, engineering and environmental consequences, as well as compliance with laws, regulations and environmental consequences. government standards.
The commission has scheduled an initial public hearing on the project for Aug. 11 in Rosamond.
“The Gem Energy Storage facility is one of many energy storage projects needed to achieve California’s clean energy goals,” the commission stated in an email.
Toronto-based Hydrostor says Gem, its global flagship, would employ 800 construction workers at its peak then provide the equivalent of 25 to 40 full-time, ongoing jobs and a regional economic benefit, direct and indirect, of half a billion dollars.
The senior vice president leading the company’s development efforts, Curt Hildebrand, said the company’s compression actually produces water out of thin air, noting a somewhat smaller version proposed for San Luis Obispo County would need only a one-time investment of water.
But because of eastern Kern’s drier climate, he said, Gem would need a supply of 20 to 60 acre-feet per year — much less, covering a smaller footprint, than a competing energy storage technology called pumped hydro that acts as a kind of self -contained hydroelectric dam.
Hildebrand noted Gem would be located in an ajudicated water basin in which the company would need to purchase water rights for use in operation.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been named as one possible customer. Hildebrand said the company is negotiating with many others.
“We have a lot of commercial interest in the project, we’re happy to say,” Hildebrand said.