By Ed Burke, Dennis K. Burke Inc.
In October, Massachusetts’ first utility-scale battery project got under way in the town of Sterling—and it’s a big one—the largest in New England.
Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD) is building a 2-megawatt, 3.9 megawatt-hour battery storage system aimed at boosting grid resiliency against storm-related outages. The project is slated to be fully operational by the end of the year and effectively doubles the installed battery storage capacity in Massachusetts.
Getting the ball rolling, Massachusetts has stepped up as a leader in implementing energy storage technology. The state began opening up avenues for a broader use of storage last year when Gov. Charlie Baker announced the Energy Storage Initiative (ESI). Assuring the Commonwealth’s commitment to embracing clean energy solutions, the legislature passed a bill in August that could make the state one of only three in the nation to have an energy storage mandate.
“Energy storage plays a crucial role as the Commonwealth continues to transition to a more renewable, sustainable energy future, and I commend Sterling for their embrace of this innovative resource,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton.
Sterling Municipal is a progressive public power utility serving the town of Sterling for over 100 years. SMLD has more than 3,700 residential, commercial, municipal and industrial customers. The power company maintains an extremely clean portfolio of separate power supply agreements. SMLD has also been aggressively installing large amounts of PV solar in recent years. In fact, the town of Sterling is currently ranked seventh in the nation in installed PV per capita.
With the storage project, SMLD is looking to create greater resiliency and to further modernize its grid. The battery storage system works hand-in-hand with the installed solar to provide the needed energy resiliency, particularly to critical town departments such as police, dispatch, and fire service.
The system will be able to “isolate” from the main power grid during a power outage, and with the support of existing solar generation, provide up to 12 days of backup power to the town’s police station and dispatch center—a critical facility that provides first responder services.
It will also provide transmission capacity charge savings by reducing peak demand, which will deliver energy cost savings to ratepayers. Projected revenues from utilizing the batteries for grid services are expected to result in a payback of installed costs in less than seven years.
“Energy storage is the next step for our industry,” said Sean Hamilton, general manager at the Sterling Municipal Light Department. “This project allows us to smooth our renewable resources when intermittent clouds affect production. We can also buy power when prices are low, store it, and then distribute it during periods of high demand when prices are higher.”
NEC Energy Solutions, of Westborough, MA, is providing its turnkey GSS energy storage solution. The system will be contained in a single 53-foot container housing 3.9 MWh of lithium ion batteries, a 2 MW power conversion system, and NEC’s control software. NEC ES will also provide service and maintenance packages to SMLD for the project.
“This project is the largest of its kind in New England and represents our ongoing commitment to deliver comprehensive, safe, and reliable energy storage solutions whether located across the globe, or like this one, in our own backyard,” said Bud Collins, CEO of NEC Energy Solutions.
The total cost of the project is approximately $2.7 million. Funding for the project came in part from a $1.46 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, with $250,000 and technical assistance coming from the U.S. Department of Energy. Additional technical support was provided by the Clean Energy States Alliance, and by the Clean Energy Group’s Resilient Power Project, through a grant from the Barr Foundation.
“Energy storage technologies, especially when paired with renewable energy, have the potential to be a real game-changer for Massachusetts, helping to lower the cost of energy to ratepayers while reducing emissions,” said Judith Judson, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
“We hope that Sterling will become an example for other projects in Massachusetts and indeed the entire U.S.,” said Dr. Imre Gyuk, Energy Storage Program Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy.
“This project demonstrates the many benefits of energy storage technology, and it also demonstrates the economic case for energy storage,” said Todd Olinsky-Paul, project director at the Clean Energy States Alliance. “It is laying the groundwork for future energy storage projects, and once that economic case is understood, we will see many other communities in New England follow in the footsteps of Sterling.”