Baker Expects Short Delay in Offshore Wind Project Selection
BOSTON — The electrical storage industry got a charge out of Gov. Charlie Baker's "clean peak" proposal that would encourage greater reliance on renewable energy sources during periods of peak electricity demand, and the governor on Wednesday said lawmakers have also been drawn to the idea.
"I do think this is something there's a lot of support for here in our Legislature," Baker told the Energy Storage Association at a conference Wednesday in Boston. The assocation has a target of increasing storage capacity by roughly 70 times over the next seven years.
The governor also said the selection of an offshore wind power supplier for Massachusetts could be pushed back "a few weeks" from Monday, when evaluators had previously planned to announce their choice.
If it is enacted, Massachusetts would be the first state in the nation to use a clean peak standard, which would specifically encourage electricity storage and clean energy sources to step in and help meet demand when electricity is most needed, according to the Northeast Clean Energy Council. Peak demand drives up the price of electricity and makes it cost-effective for dirtier power generators to fire up.
Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association, listed the clean peak standard – which is contained in a $1.4 billion environmental bond bill – as one of two "awesome" ways that Massachusetts is supporting the burgeoning storage industry.
"That's going to help also open markets and enable storage," Speakes-Backman told the News Service.
The other encouraging sign from Massachusetts was the target of 200 million megawatt hours of storage by 2020, which Speakes-Backman said "sets a course for industry to know that they're open for business."
Wind developers hoping to win a contract to supply Massachusetts with power harvested from above the Atlantic Ocean might have to wait beyond the previously announced April 23 date for project selection.
"My expectation is it will probably slide by a few weeks. I don't think it's going to slide by months," the governor told reporters when asked about the deadline. He said, "They have a lot of information to work their way through, and I think this is the sort of thing that people want to make sure they get right."
Utilities and state officials make up the team overseen by an independent evaluator that will choose from among three developers – Bay State Wind, Deepwater Wind and Vineyard Wind – who have proposed building arrays of wind turbines in the seas south of Martha's Vineyard.
Energy storage can be paired with renewable projects – and Bay State Wind has touted a 55-megawatt storage system that would be part of its wind farm – or they can exist independently.
Speakes-Backman has been encouraged by developments at the state and federal level. A mid-February move by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will enable storage projects to do business both with customers – providing them savings during peak demand – and through the wholesale power markets, Speakes-Backman told the News Service. Currently, storage companies can do one or the other, she said.
Storage can mean lithium batteries, water reservoirs that fill up when power is cheap and generate hydroelectricity when prices spike, or even ice-making in buildings, according to Speakes-Backman. The ice can be made overnight when electricity is cheap and then used to cool a building during the day when there are other demands on the electrical grid.
The Energy Storage Association recently announced a goal of growing storage from half a gigawatt in 2017 to 35 gigawatts in 2025, and Speakes-Backman already sees signs of that rapid growth.
"I'll admit it's a very ambitious goal, but we believe that the trajectory and the rapid cost declines are enabling this sort of growth to happen. We're already beginning to see it. We hit the 1-gigawatt-hour mark at the end of last year," Speakes-Backman said. She said, "We're on the really steep up-curve of growth."
Speaking to industry executives gathered at the Hynes Convention Center for the three-day conference, Peter Kelly-Detwiler, co-founder of NorthBridge Energy Partners, was also bullish on the potential for storage, saying people "know this thing is about to take off in all these different markets."
"Material science drives a lot of this," Kelly-Detwiler said. For batteries, the supply of cobalt is also a "limiting factor," he said.
The United States accounted for 13 percent of the 52 gigawatts of the new wind energy capacity installed in 2017, according to the American Wind Energy Association, which on Wednesday reported that wind energy provided 254 million megawatt hours of electricity in the U.S. last year, making up 6.3 percent of the electrical supply.
In Massachusetts, wind energy accounted for less than 1 percent of the electricity last year, while the wind energy share was more than one quarter of electricity generation in Great Plains states like Kansas.
--Andy Metzger, State House News Service