Best of the West: Expanding energy storage, Transforming CO2 into jet fuel, Powering Google with EGS, and Free college in Colorado

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting July 17, 2023. (Photos courtesy of SRP ENERGY).  

As Western states rapidly adopt renewable energy, many have ramped up the development of energy storage facilities to stockpile the vast amount of wind and solar energy generated each day.

Per the Wood Mackenzie report, the U.S. battery energy storage system market is expected to install almost 75 GW from 2023 to 2027.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California is leading the way on this front, accounting for 31% of the country’s total energy storage capacity. Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that the California grid reached 5,600 MW of Battery Storage Capacity, a 1020% Increase Since 2020, which represents enough power for 4.2 million homes for up to four hours before the batteries need to be recharged.

Several other states, however, have recently approved large energy storage systems in an effort to catch up.

The Sierra Estrella energy storage facility in Arizona will hold enough electricity to power more than 56,000 average-sized homes for a four-hour period. When the new Tesla Megapack project comes online in 2024, it will be the state’s largest energy storage system.

Two Southcentral Alaska utilities are also installing Tesla Megapacks battery systems in an effort to provide the communities backup power and reduce their reliance on natural gas. If there’s a disruption on the Railbelt grid, being able to provide power instantaneously as opposed to firing up gas turbine generators, will save an estimated $121 million over 15 years, officials from the utilities said.  

Idaho has also begun to develop its largest energy storage projects to date, with 80 MW of battery systems being constructed by Idaho Power at its Hemingway substation in Owyhee County and another 40 MW battery energy storage system under construction alongside the Black Mesa solar project in Elmore County.

Portland General Electric Company announced the procurement of 400 MW of new battery storage projects – the largest single procurement of standalone energy storage to date by a utility in the U.S. outside the state of California. These projects, located at substations close to electrical demand, will store enough electricity to power all PGE customer homes in a city the size of Portland for an entire evening on battery-delivered energy alone.

With a dearth of critical minerals to develop these batteries, other states are looking to store energy using more novel approaches.    

In Wyoming, there are at least four major pumped hydro storage projects being proposed, one of which, the 900-MW Seminoe Pumped Storage Project, has reached the final license application stage with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – one of only six pumped-hydro systems to do so in the last 23 years. It will be located in Carbon County, long among the largest coal-producing counties in the nation’s largest coal-producing state.

 rPlus Hydro, the Utah-based company leading the Seminoe Project in Wyoming, has also proposed a major Pumped-Hydro Storage Project in Nevada that would provide 1,000 MW of power. At its peak output of 1 GW the White Pine Pumped Storage project could provide about eight hours of energy storage. Officials said the installation could supply power to support more than 12% of the state’s peak electricity demand on a hot summer day.

Renewell Energy, a startup based in Bakersfield, California is working on its first commercial system using renewably powered winches to lift weights from near the bottom of oil wells. After the sun goes down and the wind stops, lowering the weights will run a generator that feeds the grid.


CARBON CAPTURE: Using technology developed by Colorado-based ION Clean Energy, Calpine, the nation’s largest generator of electricity from natural gas, has inaugurated a $25-million carbon capture pilot project at its Los Medanos Energy Center in Pittsburg. Dubbed Project Enterprise, the 18-month pilot program aims to capture 95% of all carbon emissions (about 10 tons of carbon dioxide per day) at one of its natural gas power plants and store it underground.

TRANSFORMING CO2 INTO JET FUEL: Twelve, a carbon transformation company, broke ground on its commercial-scale E-Jet sustainable aviation fuel production facility in Moses Lake, Washington. E-Jet fuel is a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that uses renewable energy and water to transform CO2 into critical chemicals, materials, and fuels conventionally made from fossil fuels. As a power-to-liquid SAF, with up to 90% lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-based jet fuel, E-Jet fuel works seamlessly with existing aircraft and airport infrastructure. Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, and Shopify will be the first customers to receive products from the Moses Lake plant under existing agreements.

GEOTHERMAL BREAKTHROUGH: In a landmark step for enhanced geothermal technology’s potential as a dependable carbon-free energy source, Fervo Energy completed a performance demonstration of its commercial pilot at the Project Red site in northern Nevada. Using an enhanced geothermal system, the plant generated 3.5 megawatts of electricity, which will used to power Google’s data centers and infrastructure throughout Nevada.  

“The significance of what we’ve done today is show that that technology actually will work a decade-plus ahead of where people thought we were on the tech roadmap,” chief executive officer and co-founder Tim Latimer said. “It’s not a ‘mid-century’ resource; it’s a ‘today’ resource.” 

FREE COLLEGE: To help fill significant shortages in certain areas of the state’s economy. Colorado Governor Jared Polis launched “Career Advance Colorado,” which will provide tuition, fees, and course materials for those who study early childhood education, education, firefighting, law enforcement, construction or forestry at of Colorado’s community colleges, area district colleges, technical colleges, or Colorado Mesa University. 

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