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SoCal Battery Storage Plant Will Be One of the Nation’s Largest

The Nova Power Bank in Menifee, Calif., will host roughly 2,000 batteries over 43 acres and store enough electricity to power 680,000 homes for up to four hours. The facility is expected to be completed next year.

Think of Nova Power Bank as a matchmaker in the power world.

No, it doesn't set up wealthy influential singles. Instead, the 2,000-megawatt battery storage facility taking shape in Menifee, Calif., will link renewable energy produced in off-peak windows with electric utilities in need of peak-hour juice.

Billed as one of the largest facilities of its kind in the nation, Nova, which broke around in August at the site of what used to be a natural gas power plant, is expected to be finished in 2025.

By then, Nova's roughly 2,000 batteries spread over 43 acres will store enough electricity to power 680,000 homes for up to four hours.

Power will cycle through Nova 24 hours a day as wind and solar energy, produced when it's not needed, is stored and sent to utilities such as Southern California Edison that need that more electricity at other points of the day and night.

Electric way stations like Nova are important as California seeks more renewable energy sources, said Carl Blumenstein, director of the California Institute for Energy and Environment at UC Berkeley.

"It's during the middle of the day when solar energy is very abundant, we have more than we need," Blumenstein said. "It would be good to be able to store it and have it available, particularly for late in the afternoon as the sun is going down and production of solar is falling off."

Menifee officials also welcome Nova.

" The Nova Power Bank will enhance energy reliability not only in our community but also across California," Menifee Mayor Bill Zimmerman said in a news release about Nova. "This project will provide valuable trade jobs, many of which have been filled by our local workforce."

Menifee also is home to one of nine U.S. Department of Energy pilot projects creating "microgrids" in new residential areas. The Oak Shade and Durango developments share data and electricity in a network of backup batteries, with a 2.3-megawatt "community battery" supplementing each home's power supply.

Edison, Redwood-based Peninsula Clean Energy and San Diego Gas & Electric, which serves part of Orange County, will use Nova, according to the release.

Battery storage is key to the state's goal of having 100 percent clean energy by 2045. On Thursday, April 25, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California has reached 10,379 megawatts of battery storage — a 1,248 percent increase from 770 megawatts in 2019.

"Our energy storage revolution is here, and it couldn't come at a more pivotal moment as we move from a grid powered by dirty fossil fuels to one powered by clean energy," Newsom said in a news release.

Calpine, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Houston that bills itself as the nation's largest generator of electricity from natural gas and geothermal sources, is building Nova off Antelope Road near the 215 Freeway.

The company also owns a Santa Ana energy storage facility with enough batteries to power 12,000 homes during peak demand periods.

Construction workers at the Nova site Tuesday, April 23, dug holes and tested batteries housed in rows of white containers resembling storage units.

The containers' insides looked like an IT server farm with wires, switches and warning signs. Electricity audibly cackled through 500,000-volt overhead lines connecting Nova to Edison's power grid.

When demand for power is low, Nova will take electrons off the grid and convert them from 500,000 volts to 34,000 volts, said Robert Stuart, Calpine construction project manager.

From there, the electricity is converted from AC power to DC power and stored in the batteries. When it's needed, the process reverses and the power goes from DC to AC before flowing from 34,000 volts back to 500,000 volts on the way back to the grid.

What goes to Nova won't stay there very long.

"When it's up and operational, (Nova) will charge and discharge every single day," Stuart said. "It will charge during the day and as we get closer to the twilight hours, it will start discharging into the night. And then the same cycle will happen every single day."

Calpine is building Nova in Menifee in part because of the leftover infrastructure from the natural gas plant that operated for 11 years before closing in 2019 before being torn down a year later.

"The technology was such ... that to start those and turn those on and off, it was just a robust process (and) cumbersome," Stuart said. Nova, he said, is better able to respond to the grid's need for more power at a moment's notice, rather than a natural gas plant that takes longer to ramp up.

Nova will be a good neighbor, Stuart said.

"What you have is a few exhaust fans, a few cooling fans, (an HVAC) system. But there isn't a huge noise output for this," he said.

"For all intents and purposes, it kind of hums along at a very quiet rate and it's set inside the facility in such a way ... you wouldn't be able to hear it outside of the plant facility."

A staff of 12 to 13, working round the clock in shifts of two, will monitor Nova at an on-site control center. In case of an emergency, "the complete system can be shut off (with the) click of a mouse," Stuart said.

Smoke, heat and gas sensors are in every container and will be monitored 24/7, Stuart said, adding that the site will be secured by a series of cameras and lights around the perimeter as well as a fence and a block wall.

"It's a little hard to tell right now" whether California is meeting its clean energy goals, Blumenstein said.

"We're making huge progress and sometimes the grid is almost more than half renewable and even higher," he said. "But there's some real challenges and storage or some way to get (through) the periods when renewable energy isn't available are going to be important."

(c)2024 The Whittier Daily News, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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