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Battery storage conversion planned for Central Illinois coal plant sites. Here's what that means

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(Credit: Mitsubishi Power)
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Mitsubishi Power Americas, Inc. and Powin, LLC are helping Southern Power enhance the reliability of renewable energy in California with two utility-scale battery energy storage system (BESS) projects. The projects totaling 640 megawatt hours will be installed at Southern Power’s Garland and Tranquillity Solar Facilities to provide additional flexible resource capacity for integrating intermittent renewable energy into the grid.

Vistra Energy announced it would convert several of its coal-fired power plant sites into renewable energy battery storage soon after the September passage of the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.

That includes Bartonville's E.D. Edwards plant, slated to close by the end of next year as part of a Clean Air Act lawsuit settlement. Other sites, like the former Duck Creek Power Station in Canton, will play host to both battery storage and solar arrays.

Sean Brady is regional policy manager for the Clean Grid Alliance, an environmental nonprofit organization based in Minnesota. He said about 300 megawatts of solar and 150 megawatts of battery storage are slated to come online in Illinois between 2023 and 2026, following CEJA's passage.

"Ideally, we would like to see renewables generate electricity that's then stored in battery storage, and then used during the evenings, as well as during times when there is the need for ramping, to match up with the variability of wind and solar facilities," Brady said.

Brady said the industry is currently in growth mode, with the average battery about the size of a shipping container. But scientists are already looking for ways to squeeze more out of them.

"We're at the cusp of technology really growing the potential for battery storage over the next 10 to 15 years," he said.

A program through the Illinois Power Agency would compensate companies $30 per megawatt hour of clean energy produced, with a goal of up to 625,000 megawatt hours a year. A $280 million grant program administered through the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity would finance creation of at least three storage facilities south of Interstate 80, and an additional two in northern Illinois.

"So we've got two programs, one through the (Illinois) power agency, one through the Department of Economic Opportunity, to foster development of about 10 to 12 solar and battery storage sites here in Illinois," said Brady.

The combination solar array and battery storage facilities are the "next phase of renewables," said Brady, "in terms of helping renewable energy facilities really be able to operate around the clock."

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.