FERC orders Calif. utility to install energy storage

Source: David Ferris, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2014

In a first, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has struck a deal with a power company that requires it to add batteries to the electric grid in order to avoid blackouts.

The Imperial Irrigation District (IID), which delivers power to a swath of the Southern California desert, was ordered last week by FERC to spend $9 million to add the capacity for 33 megavolt amperes to its transmission infrastructure. The settlement ends a FERC investigation that began after a September 2011 blackout that cut power to much of Southern California.

The settlement appeared to be less about punishment and “more an acknowledgement of the role that energy storage plays in resiliency and creating a more robust infrastructure,” said Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Association.

“This is one of the first times we’ve seen FERC specifically talk about that,” he added.

FERC rarely comments on its own settlements. An commission spokesman, Craig Cano, said, “These settlements help improve the operation and reliability of the grid.”

The settlement has limited effect, however, because it mostly adds momentum to a course that IID had already chosen. Since last year, the utility has been developing plans to spend $50 million to $70 million to add 20 megawatts of storage to its transmission lines, according to IID spokeswoman Marion Champion.

The utility’s and FERC’s plans dovetail neatly with each other. FERC’s order to add capacity of 33 megavolt amperes is roughly equivalent to the 20 MW that the utility is planning, Champion said. FERC’s deadline to install the storage, December 2016, is the same deadline that IID has to meet a requirement from the state of California to add energy storage.

“We worked with them every step of the way, from the outage point on,” Champion said of IID’s relationship with FERC.

IID has not yet determined who will build the systems or what technological approach to storage it will use. Because of its location and history, California stands to play an important role in the global energy storage market (EnergyWire, June 2).

The storage that the desert utility plans to bring on will also help it handle an influx of unpredictable solar power — important for a region that is experiencing a blossoming of solar power plants and rooftop installations, and that gets 350 days of sunshine a year (EnergyWire, May 2).

There is one bitter pill for the utility for its lapses in the 2011 blackout: It is also required as part of the settlement to pay the U.S. Treasury $3 million.