I've written about batteries for years, but this was the first time one made me emotional.
Last week I drove up the 101 to the coastal farm city of Oxnard, which sits between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There I laid eyes on the biggest battery I'd ever seen — 100 megawatts/400 megawatt-hours, enough to power the city of 209,000 souls for four hours single-handedly. And it was just so small and quiet.
The Oxnard battery, which I wrote about here, stands out first as proof of what can happen when grassroots environmental justice movements team up with the clean energy industry.
- Local activists rallied to stop the natural gas plant that was poised to lock up their shoreline for decades.
- But they needed an alternative power source, and that's where the young battery storage industry came through.
"I do think there’s repeatability there," said Joshua Rogol, who developed the project for Strata Solar.
There's no shortage of communities that would rather not breathe more power plant exhaust. But the people mobilizing for environmental justice and the people developing and financing solar and battery projects aren't always in conversation.
Oxnard showed how both groups stand to gain from collaboration:
- The Oxnard community could point to battery storage as a viable alternative to the gas plant for the utility's local electricity needs. That made it easier for regulators to explore alternatives.
- The support of the community helped Strata move rapidly through permitting and construction.
That dynamic alone makes this a model that other communities and developers would do well to study. But the project also validates how clean energy scrambles expectations of what power infrastructure has to look like.
Providing secure electrical power used to require big, clanking facilities that polluted their surroundings and released planet-warming gases.
Now, if you have a couple of acres of commercially zoned land, that's enough to host the equivalent of a small gas plant. Up close, you hear a mild mechanical hum; from across the street, the impact on surroundings is akin to a self-storage facility, minus the customers.
Throw in the fact that it took just a few months to build the thing, and it's not hard to imagine a future landscape of unobtrusive, non-emitting power plants tucked into odd lots in the cities with the most pronounced electricity demand.
All of this went from hypothetical to reality in the last four years.
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