PUD considering new technology to store extra power

EVERETT — Picture what the rectangular battery in your smoke detector would look like if it were a little stretched out lengthwise and 1,000 times bigger.

It would be roughly the size of a ship container. Instead of powering smoke detectors, it could run TVs, heating systems, appliances and lamps in about 750 homes.

Some of these giant batteries could turn up in neighborhood electrical substations in the years to come.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District is looking into the fledgling technology as a way to store energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

The juice can be socked away during peak production periods and used later when it’s needed the most.

The Legislature this year set aside up to $15 million for low-interest loans to utilities to develop pilot projects for energy storage. That money is part of a $40 million allocation for several programs to promote clean energy.

Ideally, the PUD could partner with other utilities on a project, general manager Steve Klein said.

The technology is new, expensive and there’s little standardization, he said. If the utilities can work together on a large purchase, they can influence the market and help bring the price down, Klein said.

“The more parties that participate, the better,” he said.

Utilities would be required to match the funds, said state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who helped get the money into the budget with encouragement from Gov. Jay Inslee.

“We want them to have skin in the game, too,” Dunshee said.

The money will have to be used within two years.

“If it’s successful, we’ll re-up it,” he said.

Wind and solar power ebb and flow with the weather and seasons. At times in recent years, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Oregon-based federal agency that manages the power grid in the Northwest, has forced a shut-off of wind power because the system couldn’t handle the extra load.

The industry is developing ways to store that power. The Notrees Windpower Project, a large wind farm in Texas, recently installed large batteries capable of delivering 36 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power 27,000 homes. While that sounds impressive, some suggest that the batteries only can deliver that much energy for a relatively short period of time, perhaps only minutes.

Even so, some wind and solar power systems are now coming equipped with battery storage capacity, according to a report in Grist, an online publication.

The PUD provides electricity to Snohomish County and Camano Island. Most of the utility’s power is generated by large hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River, and that won’t change in the near future. But the PUD’s percentage of electricity from wind and solar power has risen to 11.5 percent, spokesman Neil Neroutsos said — on average, enough to power 66,000 homes.

Most of that amount is purchased from wind farms in Eastern Washington and Oregon, though the number of households with solar power in the PUD’s service area has tripled in the past three years, from 100 to 300.

The PUD and all other utilities in the state are required by I-937, passed in 2006, to provide 15 percent of their power through renewable sources by 2020.

The pilot storage unit would likely be located at a substation in the southern part of Everett — possibly Merrill Creek near the Boeing plant, officials said.

Rather than a large central point of storage as with the Texas wind farm, the PUD would likely install 1 megawatt batteries — enough to power 750 homes — at different substations to keep the power close to where it will be used, Klein said.

Dunshee said being able to store the power should help utilities reduce the cost of power over the long term.

“This should make energy more affordable for folks,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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