Energy storage is the new black, and a growing number of US states don’t want to be caught without it. That includes the state of Utah, which is the proud home of the pumped hydro specialist rPlus Energies. The company is planning two massive new “water batteries” for Wyoming and Nevada. Public officials all three states are on a crusade against “woke capital,” but it looks like clean tech will get the last laugh after all.
More Pumped Hydro Energy Storage For The US
For those of you new to the topic, pumped hydro refers to gravity-based energy storage systems that use water as a medium. The idea is to pump water from a reservoir or other water source during periods of low electricity demand, and send it to an upper reservoir. When demand peaks, water from the upper reservoir can be sent back downhill to a generating station, with gravity doing the heavy lifting.
Pumped hydro systems have been around for more than a century and they are still the leading system for utility-scale energy storage in the US by a wide margin, despite all the hoopla over the latest lithium-ion battery systems.
CleanTechnica reached out to rPlus Energies for more details on its Wyoming project last month by email, and the company noted that nuclear energy provided much of the impetus for new pumped hydro facilities back in the 20th century. Activity slowed to a crawl when the US nuclear industry went into sleep mode in the late 20th century. However, the availability of low cost wind and solar power in recent years has provided a fresh shot of adrenaline to pumped hydro.
The problem is finding a place to build massive new reservoirs for pumped energy storage without running afoul of environmental impacts, community concerns and other obstacles. rPlus seems to have cracked the code, which is an impressive feat considering that possibility of running up against opposition from public officials, too.
More (Renewable) Energy Storage For Wyoming
Wyoming is one state in which public office holders have adopted the “anti-woke” mantle as a slur against ESG (environment, social, governance) investing. That covers a lot of ground, but the main thrust is to throw roadblocks in the way of renewable energy development. In Wyoming, one example is Republican State Senator Bo Biteman. He has introduced anti-ESG legislation and he has reportedly likened ESG investing to an “invisible gun to the head.”
The rPlus project is on track to join the mix. The company’s proposed 900-megawatt Seminoe pumped hydro project for Carbon County, Wyoming, passed a significant milestone in January, when rPlus submitted its Final License Application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. According to the rPlus, only six pumped hydro energy storage projects in the US have gotten to that stage since the turn of the 21st century.
Aside from providing 10 hours of stored energy at full output, rPlus describes the Seminoe project as “a crucial component to the reliability and dependability of the regional transmission grid as it moves towards greater reliance on renewable energy sources like solar and wind,” citing the new Gateway and TransWest Express transmission lines as examples.
As described in its email message to CleanTechnica, rPlus anticipates that Wyoming’s growing wind industry will provide the power for off-peak pumping. Solar energy shipped in from neighboring Utah could also come into play.
“These energy sources are becoming predominant as states and individual utilities in the region decarbonize their energy supplies,” rPlus wrote. “The area in which the Seminoe Project is located is also particularly rich in wind energy resources and subsequent development.”
Energy Storage In, Coal Power Out in Nevada
The next steps for Seminoe include an environmental review, so stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, earlier this week rPlus also submitted a Final License Application for the 1,000-megawatt White Pine pumped hydro project, to be located in White Pine County, Nevada.
The new energy storage system is particularly significant in the context of longstanding wars over water rights in the western US. The White Pine project will use water that was previously reserved for a coal power plant. Plans for the fossil energy project stalled out, but preserving water rights is a key issue for thirsty western states like Nevada. The new pumped hydro project will ensure that a claim on precious water resources does not slip through the fingers of White Pine County.
As described by rPlus, White Pine will provide 8 hours of energy storage at full output, which is about equal to an impressive one-eighth of the total peak power demand in the entire state of Nevada on hot summer days.
White Pine County officials are cheerleading the project. That includes County Manager Mike Wheable, who said, “White Pine County is geographically and politically positioned to be the future of Nevada’s energy production, transmission, and storage.”
They better keep an eye out for State Controller Andy Matthews, who appears to be aligned with the “anti-woke” set. Matthews is listed as member of the all- Republican State Financial Officers Foundation, which has caught the eye of watchdog groups like the Center for Media and Democracy. CME has been tracking the organization’s partisan activities and tracing its ties with the conservative “bill mill” organization ALEC, which has engaged in a years-long battle against clean power.
“Like ALEC, one of SFOF’s top priorities this year will be fighting ‘woke’ capitalism and ‘defend[ing] the market economy’ against the growing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement,” the Center for Media and Democracy watchdog organization observed in an article posted on February 16, 2022.
Utah Is Front & Center In Renewable Energy Revolution
Utah Treasurer Marlo Oaks also makes an appearance on the SFOF list of state financial officers, though it is unclear how much influence he has been exercising over his state’s renewable energy profile.
In addition to being the home base of rPlus Energies, Utah is also home to the massive Advanced Clean Energy Storage project, which is moving along with a $504 million assist from the Loan Programs Office of the US Department of Energy. The project is billed as the biggest clean hydrogen project in the world.
ACES sparked a tiny spark of bipartisan support in Congress back in 2019, when including Republican U.S. Representative John Curtis of Utah District 3 introduced the INVEST act, short for “Incentivizing New and Valuable Energy Storage Technology.” The bill aimed at providing utilities with an accelerated tax credit schedule for energy storage projects.
That appears to have been a one-off. Other than the INVEST act, Curtis has staked out a solid track record on a raft of conservative issues. INVEST died a quick death in Congress but several provisions in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act will benefit energy storage projects like ACES.
As for clean power stakeholders like rPlus, they don’t seem to be paying much attention to the “anti-woke” mudslinging. The company launched in 2018 as a subsidiary of the decades-old Gardner Group real estate development firm, to embark on a mission of providing “access to the best mix of renewable resources in a given region – including solar, solar plus battery, pumped storage hydropower, and wind.”
“As the end-users of more than two-thirds of our world’s power supply, the commercial and industrial sector is uniquely positioned to switch the demand to renewables and drive the transition to a low carbon economy,” rPlus explains.
As of midway through 2022, the rPlus portfolio included 30 or so projects in the US for a total of more than 12 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, with another gigawatt on the way this year in solar and battery storage capacity.
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Image: The proposed Seminoe pumped hydro energy storage project in Carbon County, Wyoming (courtesy of rPlus Energies via prnewswire.com).
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