Visalia sparks plans for a new battery energy storage facility

The Tulare County Planning Commision approved a special use permit for a lithium-ion battery energy storage facility that would provide help during high power usage times

VISALIA – Tulare County continues to make strides in expanding renewable energy sources as it looks to expand renewable energy options in Visalia. 

The Tulare County Planning Commission approved a special use permit (SUP) for 4 Creeks ESS (energy service system), LLC – different from locally owned and operated 4Creek in Visalia – to allow a lithium-ion battery energy storage facility east of Visalia at their Oct. 26 meeting. The storage is capable of delivering 500 megawatts of energy for up to 12 hours. Adding this additional battery storage allows for more energy to be stored and used during peak hours of energy use. This is the first step in the process and the project looks to be completed by 2026, at the earliest.

“[The project] is going to contribute to an overall reduction in non-renewable resources currently consumed to generate electricity,” Sandy Roper, project planner with the county, said. “It’s going to be a benefit for the county as well as the state and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

4 Creeks ESS, LLC is a company owned and directed by Terra-Gen, a San Diego based company and the development company of this operation. The project site sits on a 48 acre plot of land that is currently an operating walnut, persimmon and pomegranate farm. Of the total plot, 40 acres will be used for the battery farm portion, leaving the remaining eight acres on the west side of the plot to remain as it is. The remaining acreage will include some trees that will continue to be harvested to allow for a visual buffer from the road. There is a house near the front of the property that will remain where it is as well. It is located on Avenue 148 in Visalia down the road from Blue Oak Academy and across the street from the already existing Southern California Edison Rector. 

Terra-Gen is a leading renewable energy developer with over 1.2 gigawatts of wind, solar and energy storage facilities according to the director of development with Terra-Gen, Peter Lai. They specialize in developing utility scale projects. Lai said the projects that they develop, they own and operate for the lifetime of those projects, which according to him is not something other companies do.

“We are operating a little over 3,300 megawatts of battery storage in California today,” Lai said. “It was instrumental for the state to have those resources and to help avert power outages during the recent heat waves that we’ve seen in the last two months.”

Lai said California does face a short fall when it comes to energy for a number of reasons. Lai said last year’s Bootleg fire stranded 4,000 megawatts of power that would usually aid the grid. When situations such as that occur, it worsens the energy shortages during peak hours for everyone. By bringing in this storage facility it will provide additional help during peak usage hours.

“Four Creeks is [providing] an opportunity for Tulare County to support a clean sustainable energy project that will provide both grid resiliency and reliability, help avert public safety, power shut offs and meet California’s energy plan and their environmental goals,” Lai said.

In times of high power usage, like in the summer months between 4p.m. – 9p.m., there is a high demand for power. People get home from work around the same time and the grid sees an increase in usage, it can sometimes cause power outages or rolling blackouts. By bringing in more battery storage facilities they allow additional backup to help alleviate some stress put on existing power sources. 

Having this backup facility would allow Tulare County residents to receive the energy first. At full wattage, the batteries have the capability to supply energy for 12 hours. Lai explained that one megawatt is the equivalent to providing power for 1,000 homes. So at 500 megawatts, that is a significant amount of coverage. According to the US Census Bureau, there are around 140,000 households in Tulare County from 2016-2020. There is also the option of lowering the wattage so that energy could be supplied for a longer period of time. 

Lai said they are looking at “interconnecting” with Southern California Edison on this project. The project needed additional time to get the ball rolling mainly because of supply chain issues. He said that the earliest the project could actually be connected is late 2025, even 2026. The decision as to which batteries will be chosen won’t even be made until 2024 because the project is still a few years away from beginning. 

“Technology is always changing,” Lai said. “We’re keeping an eye on that in working with various major manufacturers to ensure that the technology is moving in the direction that we need to ensure a safe, reliable project.”

The batteries could range anywhere from three and a half feet by five feet wide up to approximately 53 feet long by 12 feet wide, and range in height from around eight feet to 25 feet high. According to the staff report, “The project consists of lithium-ion battery modules that will be installed in racks and housed in outdoor Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) enclosures.” The enclosures will have safety features built into them as well. 

In order for the project to move forward they must attain a variety of other permits, such as building permits in order to take another step towards breaking ground. The SUP is conditioned upon and will not be effective until the county and applicant or owner execute a development agreement and reclamation plan. 

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