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West Virginia Lawmakers Consider Battery Energy Future

The Joint Standing Energy Committee took in presentations from industry representatives who discussed the potential for battery energy storage to help power West Virginia as it rapidly expands in the U.S. energy market.

West Virginia Capitol
West Virginia Capitol
(David Kidd)
(TNS) — West Virginia lawmakers got lessons on a key asset to power grids poised to shape the future of energy in and out of the Mountain State Monday.

The state Joint Standing Energy Committee took in presentations from two industry representatives who weighed in on the potential for battery energy storage to help power West Virginia as it rapidly expands in the U.S. energy market.

Battery energy storage systems store energy and release it when customers need power.

Last year, the federal Energy Information Administration projected that enough large-scale battery storage would be installed between 2021 and 2023 to contribute 10,000 megawatts to the grid — 10 times the capacity in 2019.

Developers added 1,335 megawatts of new utility-scale energy storage capacity in the fourth quarter of 2021, exceeding the previous two years combined, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

Adam Kabulski, vice president of sales and marketing at California-headquartered EPC Power Corp., reported to committee members at their interim legislative session meeting in Morgantown that a planned company plant will consist of 227 megawatts.

That's more than four times what West Virginia's installed large-scale battery power capacity was in 2020, per Energy Information Administration data.

"It's wild to see just how fast this industry is moving," Kabulski said. "It's going to continue to move. This is certainly a reason, I would say, to get involved early today because this is going to be everywhere on the grid soon.

Kabulski noted that batteries provide instant, grid-balancing power.

"You want to have these all over your grid because they're doing exactly what's needed, whereas generators are nice for slow, steady applications, but the fast, dynamic changes they just can't do," Kabulski said. "[T]he batteries being able to pull from [wind, solar and gas] and then discharge in this really fast, dynamic, fine-tuned way is really what unlocks the power."

Energy experts say that energy storage can especially benefit remote communities and support vital services like health care through more reliable power supply.

Kabulski indicated energy storage inverters that EPC Power makes can read and correct performance, voltage and other issues with grids.

Asked by Delegate Kayla Young, D- Kanawha, what the Legislature could do regarding battery manufacturing and grid interconnection, Kabulski identified legislative moves made by West Virginia leaders that climate advocates say have held back in-state renewable energy development.

Kabulski called the tax credits in the Build Back Better Act that passed the House of Representatives in November with no Republican support a "game-changer." The Build Back Better Act would expand an investment tax credit to include energy storage technology and drew fervent support from clean energy advocates for that and other investment tax credits for renewable energy.

But the bill, a budget reconciliation package that could pass the Senate with majority support, has stalled in the Senate due to a lack of Republican support and opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., who cited fears the measure would add to the nation's inflation and national debt when he came out against the bill in December.

Kabulski said West Virginia was behind in pursuing pilot projects for energy storage, saying that North Carolina's renewable energy portfolio standard set up in 2007 led to solar development opportunities that have helped drive battery storage growth there, as well.

West Virginia repealed a renewable energy portfolio standard that it adopted in 2009 six years later.

Before it was repealed, House Bill 103 of 2009 required electric utilities serving 30,000 or more residential customers to own credits equal to at least 25% of electric energy from alternative and renewable facilities they sold to in-state retail customers in the previous year starting in 2025, with interim milestones of 10% from 2015 through 2019 and 15% from 2020 through 2024.

Joel Harrington, a director of public policy at Enel North America, Inc., noted that Enel is developing six utility-scale solar projects across West Virginia totaling 769 megawatts being paired with 185 megawatts of battery energy storage. That includes hundreds of megawatts supporting demand response programs, in which consumers lessen or shift their electricity use during peak periods in response to time-based rates or other incentives.

Harrington reported that Enel was in the early development stage of work on a 120-megawatt solar and energy storage project in Raleigh County being paired with a 30-megawatt battery to help smooth energy supply to the grid and support grid reliability and stability for customers.

"Certainly, enhancing [the] procurement process through planning with the utility, streamlining permitting at the state and local levels ... I think these are just some of the things you can do," Harrington said.

The California-based battery supply startup Sparkz announced in March that it would build a battery plant in an unspecified location in West Virginia that would employ at least 350 people.

Sparkz spokesman Paul Tencher told The Gazette-Mail in an email last week the company is progressing in its search for a site, working with its local team and state officials to "find the perfect location to build and grow."

Tencher said Sparkz is continuing its discussion with partners at the United Mine Workers of America about how best to train and hire West Virginians transitioning into the new energy economy.

Sparkz and the UMWA said in March that the former will recruit and train dislocated miners to work at the factory in partnership with the latter.

© 2022 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.