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Five tips before acquiring a site for battery energy storage

Battery Illustration

Are you part of California’s surging development of battery energy storage projects? If so, you may already know that it is being driven by policy initiatives including California’s goal to achieve 100% carbon-neutral energy by 2045, public demand for more local grid resiliency, and—particularly for coastal projects—the state’s interest in phasing out nuclear and natural gas power plants that use marine water for cooling.

Why batteries? Batteries help meet local resource adequacy and create resiliency in fire-prone areas, particularly in coastal load pockets with reduced service redundancy. Grid issues that come with solar and wind power can be eased when projects are paired with batteries. And while batteries can be charged from any grid resource, they are effective at storing excess energy generated by renewables during low demand periods so it can be deployed when energy demand ramps up.

What should be “top of mind” considerations when developing a new energy storage project? Here are five top tips for the energy storage professional to keep in mind based on our experience siting and permitting hundreds of megawatt hours of energy storage.

  1. Location, location, location: Strategic site selection is key. All developers no doubt look for sites proximate to existing substations/interconnection to the grid, and some projects are co-located with renewables to improve the attractiveness of a paired project from a grid operations standpoint. Also consider whether your site includes appropriate site access, low fire risk, no noise and species impacts, and the proposed use meets applicable land use regulations. Development timelines and costs are greatly influenced by each of these factors.
  2. Disturbed properties are golden: Locating battery infrastructure in an existing structure/pad or on existing disturbed property goes a long way in minimizing or avoiding potential impacts that can complicate and delay development. Given the nature of battery storage projects (no traffic, low water use, no emissions), and if site conditions warrant, we’ve found that a categorical exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is the right approach for many of our projects. A categorical exemption can significantly shorten the entitlement timeline and reduce potential litigation risks. We’ve written more on opportunities to streamline CEQA here.
  3. Avoid sites near sensitive receptors: Spend time reviewing the local area, neighborhood and community. While most projects see relatively little public/neighborhood opposition and are supported by environmental groups interested in clean energy, it is always sound development strategy to know and anticipate the concerns of project neighbors. For example, battery projects utilize 24-hour air conditioning cooling systems to preclude overheating and optimize system performance. These systems can have noise impacts and may be one point of contention.
  4. Available water supply: Operation and maintenance of the batteries themselves requires very little water as many battery cabinets are designed to have self-contained dry fire suppression systems. Nevertheless, by code, battery projects must have a local source of water that firefighting crews can use in case of fire on or surrounding the site. Water supply in California is extremely complex and too often an afterthought. Property due diligence must consider the water supply and source because a property’s supply is often dependent on complex water rights, local ordinances, state regulations, politics and hydrology.
  5. Use a strong due diligence team before committing to a site: Vetting a project site, developing an entitlement strategy and determining realistic timelines go a long way toward minimizing risk. Due diligence teams should include a land use planner and attorney who can help tease out the site-specific opportunities and constraints before purchasing or leasing a property. Local land use regulations and title restrictions play a major role in how long and difficult it will be to obtain development entitlements. The team should also include a local representative who knows key stakeholders and what concerns drive them and their constituents. Having boots on the ground as well as an experienced team to strategize at the site selection phase will deliver the strongest project.

As California rapidly moves ahead with its plans to decarbonize the grid, energy storage projects are playing a more and more important role in the mix. We wish you and your team the best as you help to implement the future!