$14 million grant to help MID store wind energy

A $14 million federal grant will help pay for large batteries to store wind energy for the Modesto Irrigation District.

The batteries will allow the district to store this power for times of peak demand, rather than just using it when the wind is blowing, Tom Stepien of Primus Power Corp. said this morning.

He is chief operating officer of the Alameda-based company, which got the grant to make the batteries from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The batteries, to be installed next year at a yet-to-be-determined location within the district, will store 25 megawatts of power. That is a small part of total peak demand, which can top 600 megawatts on summer days, but it would displace some of the power generated from natural gas, Stepien said.

"This will allow a utility like MID to run their equipment in a cost-effective, uniform and less polluting manner," he said.

Stepien said details on how the batteries work are a trade secret, but he did liken them generally to how a cellular telephone is charged.

The $14 million is part of a $46.7 million project that also will include contributions from MID, Primus and possibly the California Energy Commission, he said.

MID will take part in a five-year demonstration of the batteries.

"Our role in this is to test this energy technology in real-world conditions," district spokeswoman Melissa Williams said. "With this cost-effective technology for storing industrial-size amounts of energy, we can use renewable power more widely."

MID has a goal of getting 20 percent of its power from renewable sources. That could rise to 33 percent under a recent executive order from Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The district stands at 12 percent, almost all of it from wind turbines in Solano County and the Columbia River Gorge.

Wind and solar power are seen as key parts of the effort against the climate change believed to be caused by fossil fuel burning. Without storage, they can only be used when the wind is blowing or the sun shining — and that does not always match peak demand, such as when people flip on home air conditioners in late afternoon.

The $14 million was part of $620 million in "smart grid" grants announced this week by Energy Secretary Steven Chu as part of the economic stimulus project. They aim to reduce power use and ease transmission of renewables.

MID last month got a $1.49 million grant from the Energy Department for smart grid efforts. They will include voltage controls at substations, advanced meters for the Mountain House community near Tracy, and a pilot program allowing customers to save money by using power in off-peak times.

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