Calif. battery storage project sparks opposition; fire chief assures ‘highest level of scrutiny’
Novato Chief Bill Tyler said officials will work to ensure the facility has ample notification and warning systems to quickly stop potential fires from spreading
By Will Houston
The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.
MARIN, Calif. — A renewable energy company is proposing to build the largest battery storage facility in Marin County to advance the state's clean energy goals and provide reliability during outages.
Terra-Gen, which is based in New York and California, is proposing to build the facility just west of Bel Marin Keys near the Highway 101- Highway 37 interchange in Novato.
The lithium-ion batteries at the site would be capable of storing and delivering 300 megawatts of electricity for about four hours, or enough energy to power roughly 300,000 homes in the North Bay, said Mark Turner, Terra-Gen's vice president.
Turner, a Mill Valley resident, said the facility would be able to store energy generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind during the day and use the power at night.
The batteries also can be used to provide electric reliability during power shutoffs by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. during high fire-risk conditions.
"The good news is whenever you install a battery storage facility in the local area — in this case, Marin County — it significantly benefits the reliability of the grid in that local area," Turner said.
The state has set a goal of having a zero-carbon electricity system by 2045. The California Energy Commission projects that 49,000 megawatts of battery storage capacity is needed to achieve this goal.
The proposal has prompted concern among residents in neighboring communities about the safety of the evolving energy technology and environmental impacts on nearby wetlands.
Residents in Bel Marin Keys and Hamilton are already organizing to challenge the project as it makes its way through the county review process.
Bel Marin Keys resident Linda Pollack said she is not opposed to battery storage projects. However, she and many residents think the proposed location on a floodplain and wetlands currently designated for conservation is entirely inappropriate. Residents have also expressed concern about public safety, given past incidents of fires or explosions at other lithium-ion battery storage sites in the country.
"Our purpose is to get organized early so that we're prepared to fight this tooth and nail to the end and to make sure that it is not built here on wetlands," Pollack said.
"The fact that they're considering any development here is really unconscionable and I really don't understand how it was able to get this far," said Vincent Lattanzio, president of the Bel Marin Keys Community Services District board.
The project application was submitted in January and is still in the early stages of the county review process, said county planner Megan Alton.
County agencies and the Novato Fire District have requested further information from Terra-Gen for its application. The county will then need to conduct an environmental review of the project — a process that could potentially take more than a year to complete — before it can be considered for approval.
"It will eventually go to the Board of Supervisors but not for a while," Alton said.
Turner said Terra-Gen hopes to have the facility up and running by 2026 but said it could take a couple more years.
The proposed location for the battery facility was chosen given its proximity to PG&E's Ignacio substation, which Turner said is the most important substation in Marin and the only one that would be able to handle the amount of electricity proposed to be stored at the site.
Residents have said that the project would be better suited to an industrial area, but Turner said the location was the only viable one.
The project will require the county to approve a zoning change at the parcel, which is zoned for bay conservation.
The facility would be built on a 12-acre section of the 134-acre parcel and would be elevated 10-11 feet to be out of the floodplain. The project would require about 165,000 cubic yards of fill to elevate the facility, which is enough to fill roughly 16,500 dump trucks.
Turner said many of the concerns raised by the public about the environment and public safety will be addressed as part of the environmental review and through requirements of the state fire code.
The Bel Marin Keys Community Services District's governing board is planning to hold a discussion on the project at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Board member Steve Nash said there is not much public awareness of the project, especially given the safety risks.
"We're going to take a fast stance on this," Nash said. "Just think of the public safety risks there if one of the batteries explodes and gets into the slough."
Novato fire Chief Bill Tyler said that as a new facility, the project will undergo the highest level of scrutiny available under the state fire code. Tyler said officials will be looking to ensure the facility has ample notification and warning systems as well as to ensure any potential fires do not spread.
"You're seeing in the media right now a lot about lithium battery fires, whether that is in a scooter or vehicle or whether that's in a storage facility," Tyler said. "We want to make sure our firefighters are safe when we're responding and that the public is safe as well."
More information about the project can be found at bit.ly/3Jx9BLI.
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