Energy Storage: The Next Step For Our Renewable Future
By Joe Wallace, CEO, Coachella Valley Economic Partnership | May 21, 2019
The Coachella Valley has long been a leader in renewable energy in California. The region has year-round sunshine for solar power and ample wind to keep turbines spinning.
The renewable energy industry has become all but synonymous, visually, with the valley over the past few decades. The wind turbines along Interstate 10 at the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the state’s windiest areas, has become an iconic image for local residents and a tourist destination.
As CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, I am intimately familiar with how renewable energy has strengthened the local economy and brought jobs to the region. Riverside County’s unemployment rate is now a full 10 points lower than it was at the height of the Great Recession. Local investments in renewable energy have been a big part of that economic recovery.
Last year, the state established an ambitious goal of reaching 100 percent zero-emission electricity by 2045 along with aggressive renewable energy targets for 2030. The goals could give the Coachella Valley and its renewable energy industry a big boost by creating jobs, developing our workforce and improving our economy.
Renewable energy is intermittent by nature. For example, solar power isn’t available at night. To keep California reliably supplied with electric power 24/7/365 as the state moves toward 100% renewable energy, energy storage is an absolute necessity. We need this not just to support our climate targets but to support our businesses that count on reliable energy.
Energy storage makes it possible to draw on reserves of excess renewable energy — generated when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing — and supply it to customers when the sun goes down or the wind is light. The California Public Utilities Commission says energy storage is essential for meeting 2045’s zero emissions goal.
Just outside the Coachella Valley, the Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project could turn lost jobs of the past into future opportunities.
The long-duration bulk energy storage project will convert an abandoned iron ore mine east of Indio into a facility that could provide enough stored energy to power nearly 1 million homes. While small-scale energy sources like batteries will be an important part of our energy future, utility-scale projects like Eagle Mountain are cost-effective and necessary to operate a grid using 100 percent carbon-free energy.
Eagle Mountain will pump water from the old mine to a higher-elevation reservoir whenever excess power is available. Then, whenever renewable energy is unavailable, that water will be released to flow through turbines and produce clean hydropower. The project has already undergone a thorough environmental review and has state and federal approval to move forward.
The best part — the Eagle Mountain project will invest $3 billion in the local economy and create more than 4,300 jobs. This facility not only provides for workforce development but broad community benefits by creating a tax base that will pump approximately $328 million in income into the local and state economy.
Getting energy storage built will take regulatory fixes, including a new process for procuring energy storage projects. Senate Bill 772 (Bradford-D) directs the California Independent System Operator, which operates the power grid, to establish a procurement process for long-duration bulk energy storage projects, allowing developers to move forward with several projects throughout the state.
SB 772 signals an ongoing commitment to investing in renewable energy storage technologies and represents an important opportunity to bring more good-paying jobs and economic development to the region. By taking advantage of the state’s increasing need for clean energy and investing in innovative local projects, the Coachella Valley can continue to build a resilient and prosperous economy for years to come.
Joe Wallace is CEO and Chief Innovation Officer of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership.