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Hollister Planning Commission prepares for blackouts and brownouts

Sep 14, 2023

On May 25, the Hollister Planning Commission unanimously approved the site and architectural applications for the construction of the 10-megawatt Stodola Battery Storage Energy System (BESS) that will be built at 431 Gateway Drive. The Gateway Center Subdivision is in the cul-de-sac adjacent to Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriot, Hollister Child Development Center, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and the PG&E substation in Hollister.

According to the environmental documents: the Biological Resources Assessment, Cultural Resources Assessment, and Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment in the city's agenda packet, the staff determined the proposed project was exempt from CEQA. The staff found the project consistent with in-fill development within urbanized areas that are "environmentally benign" and consistent with the City of Hollister General Plan and zoning requirements. The assessment also included in the agenda packet stated it would not result in any significant traffic, noise, air quality, or water quality effects.

Because of potential power demands from increasingly larger commercial warehouses and distribution centers being built in the Hollister, such as Amazon and Project Almond under construction north of the airport that increase the potential for blackouts or brownouts, the BESS system will store electricity and release it back into the grid as needed, said Victor Gomez, who is representing the applicant, RWE Solar Development, LLC.

The company is an affiliate of RWE AG, a renewable energy company based in Essen, Germany, doing business in the US as RWE Solar Development LLC after the acquisition of Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses, Inc.

A BESS system is made up of one or more batteries that store electrical energy for use at a later time, according to Carbon Collective. They are commonly used to supplement the needs of electricity grids.

Carbon Collective lists several cost and operational advantages to using BESS, including:

Disadvantages of BESS include:

However, according to Marsh Commercial, a UK-based insurer, the main risk of BESS are fires that can be hard to control. One such incident, according to the National Fire Protection Association, occurred on April 19, 2019 when a Lithium-Ion BESS exploded at the McMicken Battery ESS in Surprise, Arizona. The investigation found the cause of the incident was most likely an internal failure in a single battery cell caused by a defect within the cell. The clean agent fire suppression system installed was not designed to prevent or stop thermal runaway.

Besides defective or damaged Lithium-Ion cells or control component failures in lead-acid batteries, excess hydrogen can cause explosions if proper ventilation methods are not in place.

The Commission agenda packet stated the facility is consistent with the Hollister 2005-2023 General Plan's general commercial land use designation, according to the agenda packet. It will be unmanned and will include perimeter fencing and landscaping for privacy and aesthetic appeal.

The BESS facility will be connected to the PG&E substation and regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), according to the agenda packet. It will consist of battery storage "lineups," each of which would include three battery containers, a water injection system, and a DC combiner box. Each container would be self-enclosed, housing batteries, fire detection and suppression systems, controls, and cooling units.

BESS will store and deliver electricity to the grid through a Generator Interconnection Agreement (GIA) with PG&E. RWE will purchase the land, build and commission the project. The project would then be owned and operated by RWE.

Planning Commissioner Steven Belong and chair Kevin Henderson wanted assurance that the fire department would have access to the site. Gomez told them that the fire marshal had reviewed and approved the plans. Commissioner David Huboi said he was not familiar with such battery storage facilities and wanted to know if there were others already in operation.

"This is not our first project," Gomez answered without citing specific locations. "We do have a substantial amount of projects worldwide in this space."

Huboi also wanted to know if there would be any environmental issues to be concerned about. City staff said other than the normal construction site dust that would be kept to a minimum there would be no environmental issues associated with the site "under normal operation." Staff reminded the board that that the two hotels were built in the same vicinity without any environmental issues. Commissioner Carol Lenoir asked if the proposed landscaping would conceal the chain link fence surrounding the site. Staff told her it would.

Related BenitoLink stories:

Hollister runs short of power as PG&E substation reaches capacity | BenitoLink

PG&E issues warning to prepare for blackouts | BenitoLink

PG&E problems will delay opening of Hollister shopping center | BenitoLink

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On May 25, the Hollister Planning Commission