Salvaging Aliso Canyon

Storage projects are the sheepish hope of the largest natural gas leak in U.S. history

The catastrophic leak that occurred at one of the Los Angeles area’s major natural gas plants last year could finally have some positive repercussions.

Despite its initial consequences—forced evacuations, displacement of over 15,000 residents, dire power shortages, blackouts caused, and the loss of over 71 billion cubic feet (bcf) of methane, the largest gas leak in U.S. history—two energy storage projects are being brainstormed that could salvage what natural gas is left in the plants and contain the damage done by the October leak that wasn’t fixed for 4 months.

San Diego Gas and Electric and AES Energy Storage are heading these two projects, which are both south of Aliso Canyon. Both would also use Samsung lithium-ion batteries. One is a 30 MW project in Escondido, Calif.; the other a 7.5 MW project in El Cajon, the San Diego suburb. Both will be built on a turnkey basis with AES, and SDG&E will have a long-term service contract with AES covering the first 10 years of operation beginning before Jan. 31, 2017. The projects will bid into the California ISO market. The California Public Utility Commission (PUC) is expected to vote on the resolution in mid-September.

“Rapid procurement potential” is the term being used by California state officials to describe the project, writes Peter Maloney of UtilityDive. “It also shows that given the right mix of policies and circumstances, batteries can serve major bulk power system needs typically reserved for traditional power plants,” Maloney says.

Despite the upside of salvaging the 15 bcf of methane remaining at Aliso Canyon, the SoCalGas-owned site still has major roadblocks if it is to re-open for operation. First, the location’s 114 wells would have to pass inspections and testing. Required testing of all wells includes tests for temperature, sound frequency, casing thickness, cement bonding, and hydro pressure—all designed to indicate future leaks (see video above). Public outcry is also a constant barrier, emboldened recently by another reported leak in late July. And there’s always the green elephant in the room that has currently cost SoCalGas and its parent company Sempra Energy $717 million. Most recently, the situation is complicated further by rampant wildfires that flared up earlier this week and continue to scorch California’s San Bernardino County with alarming speed and intensity.

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