Santa Barbara County gets new green energy technology

The Willow Rock Energy Storage Center, Hydrostor’s proposed compressed air plant in Kern County, promises 500 megawatts of carbon-free electricity and eight hours of storage capacity. | Image credit: Hydrostor

If all goes according to a new $774 million deal with Canada Green Energy, most Santa Barbara County electricity customers will find themselves relying on compressed air for their green energy needs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. When solar power is often in short supply.

Although the Kern County compressed air plant has yet to be built, a contract was signed between Central Coast Community Energy (CCCE) and Hydrostor last month. CCCE’s 440,000 customers covering much of Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and San Benito counties have access to energy generated by pumping compressed air into underground storage, This air is then used to drive a turbine. To date, only two such projects are generating electricity: one in Alabama and another in Germany.

Under the terms of the 25-year contract, Hydrostor is supposed to start delivering green energy to the state’s grid by 2028. In central coastal counties and cities, a Hydrostor-owned factory will build three underground vaults 1,000 feet below ground, according to Das Williams, county supervisor who serves on the CCCE council, and many other government officials from five countries. Dubbed the Liuyan Energy Storage Center, the facility promises 500 megawatts of carbon-free electricity and eight hours of storage capacity. The company claims it will power 400,000 homes, the equivalent of taking 120,000 cars off the road each year. Santa Barbara County — excluding the cities of Santa Barbara and Lompoc, which are not members of CCCE — currently uses about 200 MW during that prime time.

“It could power the whole of Santa Barbara by itself,” Williams exclaims. “It allows us to live our values.” Williams means that in the long run, it can produce energy that is cheaper and more reliable than lithium-ion battery storage plants. While lithium-ion batteries can also have a lower carbon footprint, the mines that produce the ore often have serious environmental and human rights concerns, he said. Compressed air could help the state and the county go 100 percent green, he said. Membership subscribers only pay for the energy delivered.

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