Goleta may soon host 41 Megapack battery containers, which are prefabricated at Tesla's Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. | Credit: Courtesy

Elon Musk made a bet in Australia that he could install 100 megawatts of energy storage in 100 days or less, or his Powerpack batteries were free. He won, stemming the blackouts plaguing the southern part of the country. It earned not only $50 million for Tesla’s energy division, but it proved that bringing battery storage online was quicker than building new power plants. One of those storage facilities may be coming to Goleta.

Destined for the far side of the parking lot outside M.Special and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, the 60-megawatt set of lithium-ion Megapacks — utility-scale batteries that have 60 percent more energy density than the Powerpack — would store power and return it to the grid when needed. Though the installation uses 41 of Tesla’s Megapacks, which are about 23 feet long, 8 feet high, and 5 feet wide, the installer is AltaGas, a Canadian company with U.S. headquarters in Virginia, which provides natural gas to several East Coast cities and has expanded into the “clean energy” field.

“Demand ebbs and flows throughout the course of the day,” Ryan Hulett explained, an engineer with Upstream Clean Energy, an AltaGas contractor. California’s investments in solar power pours energy into the grid during peak sunlight — which coincides in the summer with the highest air-conditioning demand — so peak needs for the grid have shifted to 5 to 7 p.m., which is when solar goes offline. “Storage units can charge when there’s excess on the transmission system,” Hulett explained, “and discharge when it needs it.”

Clean energy is part of California’s mandate to go 100 percent carbon neutral in electricity generation by 2045. The state already produces 33 percent of its energy with renewables, said Hulett. Answering a question about safety, Hulett said the Megapack’s lithium-ion batteries are similar to those that run Tesla automobiles, which Hulett called a very safe technology, tested by millions of vehicle hours. They’re made in Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

SoCal Edison turned to storage after the proposed Puente natural gas power plant in Oxnard was denied by the California Energy Commission in 2017. Goleta’s existing Ellwood peaker plant, like many gas-powered plants, faces retirement. Smaller 10- and 20-megawatt battery storage facilities are planned in Carpinteria, Ventura, and a second one in Goleta.

The Cortona battery facility is not intended to alleviate power shutoffs. Its 60 megawatts are no match to the estimated 285 megawatts the Santa Barbara and Goleta region demands during peak periods. But it would help to bridge the gap should the major transmission lines go down. In April, Southern California Edison told the Public Utilities Commission that it would take an hour to reroute South County’s power supply from the 230 kilovolt high-transmission towers, which are vulnerable to earth movement and fire, to the smaller 66 kilovolt lines that normally serve western Ventura County. Edison stated about 85,000 customers would be without power — a major concern for hospitals, schools, and public infrastructure like traffic lights. Goleta’s Cortona storage facility could conceivably power more than 45,000 homes for four hours.

The 6864 Cortona Drive project met Goleta’s Design Review Board on Tuesday in a largely positive conceptual review. Goleta’s design review team was enthusiastic about the concept, which will be on the far side of a six-foot wall from the yet-to-be-built Cortona Apartments. On the parking lot side, it will be shielded from view by trees and from trespassers by a no-climb fence. The wires connecting the facility to the Isla Vista substation across Storke Road would run underground. After reassurance that EMF waves were not generated by the relatively low-voltage units, the only concern expressed was over the look of the containers, which boardmembers recommended covering in shades of beige, cream, and tan, much like the decomposed granite that will cover the just under two-acre property.


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