Monday, July 16 , 2018, 3:14 pm | Mostly Cloudy 73º


Ron Fink: Energy Storage Targets — Sacramento Out of Control, Out of Touch

On Oct. 7, the Lompoc City Council discussed “Energy Storage Targets,” which was signed into law when the governor signed Assembly Bill 2514 on Sept. 29, 2010. This bill and the requirements generated by it are ample reasons to turn some politicians in Sacramento out of office!

Prior to passing the bill, there were numerous brownouts and power outages during “high use periods” throughout the state. Most were during the heat of summer when customer demand in all of those hermetically-sealed buildings was very high. These buildings are a result of high density development, which is favored as a way to pack as many people as possible into urban areas.

In California, our elected leaders feel a strong need to champion as many pieces of legislation as they possibly can each session to demonstrate how hard they are working for the people. This is why we are so overregulated and why things cost so much. It is also why businesses are moving elsewhere to a more business-friendly state.

So now that the problem had been identified by technology-challenged legislatures, a solution was needed, and who best to come up with it than a bunch of politicians sitting in — you guessed it — a hermetically-sealed Capitol wondering if the air conditioning was going to last through the day?

AB 2514, “Energy Storage Systems,” was authored by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat. It was fast-tracked and passed 48-27 on a party-line vote.

In the context of this bill, “Energy Storage (ES)” means “commercially available technology that is capable of absorbing energy, storing it for a period of time, and thereafter dispatching said energy.” That’s regulatory talk for batteries. So their brilliant solution was to have each electrical service utility build and maintain large battery banks similar to the uninterrupted power systems many people employ for computer systems and emergency lights.

To me, this demonstrates a serious flaw in the cognitive powers of the people who have been elected to serve our state in Sacramento. Just how big of a battery would you need to store enough power for a small city like Lompoc or a larger one like Santa Barbara?

For Lompoc, the city staff says, “The only current ES technology available that the city’s electric utility could finance and feasibly construct are battery energy storage systems (BESS).” Their conclusion is that the industry may not be ready yet and that “technology maturity and risks are important variables to consider prior to committing to a multimillion-dollar project.”

They estimated that the initial construction cost for the system needed to satisfy the storage targeted in AB 2514 would be about a $3 million capital cost for a system with a service life of only 10 years — that means they would have to replace the whole thing and dispose of the hazardous waste every 10 years. It would also take a new full-time employee and at least $200,000 a year to maintain the system.

According to the staff report, “The cost of a BESS to fully cover the loss of PG&E’s transmission source for two hours would be over $50 million, just for equipment. The cost to cover the loss of every distribution transformer in the city would be over $240 million. Alternatively, BESS could be installed at strategic locations throughout the city at a minimum capital cost of $200,000 per site for residential areas and at least $2 million for commercial customer sites.”

And these are just estimates, and we all know how good the government is at estimating the cost of things they build.

The action the council took that night was to find that it wasn’t cost effective for Lompoc to adopt this technology.

So why should you worry about what Lompoc does anyway? Well, this legislation applies to the entire state of California, that’s why.

The total cost to cities larger that Lompoc could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the only way to recover the costs of these systems comes from your pocket. And most power outages last for more than two hours, so after spending all that money, the best we could hope for is just a short respite until the power went out.

Wouldn’t it have been wiser to increase the system capacity by adding power plants? Oh, I am sorry; I forgot that the current ruling majority is dead set against allowing new power plants to be built.

Well maybe they wouldn’t say that they don’t want new power plants, but they virtually eliminate the possibility of building new plants by creating rules that prevent constructing dams to produce hydroelectric power, nuclear power, fossil fuel plants and other traditional sources of power generation.

Think this over carefully. Can we afford to continue subsidizing this kind of thinking?

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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