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Glendale will get a piece of landmark solar-energy, battery storage project

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Under a 25-year contract, Glendale utility officials will be getting 25MW of record-cheap solar energy from the Eland solar project. It will increase the city’s renewable energy portfolio by about 9%. Above are photovoltaic cells in western Kern County.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Glendale will be getting a small piece of one of the country’s largest and cheapest forthcoming solar and battery energy storage projects.

Los Angeles is the primary and only other participant in what’s known as the Eland project, slated to be developed and operated by 8minute in eastern Kern County by late 2023.

Earlier this month, Glendale City Council members voted to purchase a 12.5% share of what will ultimately consist of a complex that will house solar panels and lithium-ion batteries in the Mojave Desert.

The 25-year sales agreement with Southern California Public Power Authority, or SCPPA, will provide the city with 25 megawatts of solar energy and up to 18.75 megawatts of battery storage, according to a Glendale city report.

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L.A. will get the remaining 87.5% of the project.

Steve Zurn, Glendale Water & Power’s general manager, called the city’s portion a “small but very significant share for us,” during a City Council meeting earlier this month.

The share will push Glendale’s clean-energy portfolio to 45%, up from 36%, Zurn said. The statewide average at the end of 2018 was about 31%, he added.

“We’ve consistently outpaced the state,” Zurn told council members.

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At about $33 a megawatt for the combined solar energy and battery storage, it’s one of the least expensive power sources in Glendale’s total portfolio, Zurn said. With the combined solar power and energy storage priced at 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, it’s cheaper than natural gas, according to experts and officials.

Glendale’s participation in the project is in line with the city’s “literally never-ending search to identify and obtain renewable power,” Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian said after the meeting.

Glendale utility officials are in the final stages of negotiations on a potential geothermal project in Nevada and have started discussions on possible participation in a proposed solar project in Utah, Zurn said. Those projects are also being negotiated through SCCPA.

About a year ago, Glendale Water & Power’s staff reached out to Los Angeles Department Water & Power to discuss the possibility of participating to a small degree in the Eland project, which L.A. was already working on. By this past spring, the deal was finalized, Zurn said in an email.

“It was a very gracious offer on their part, especially considering they had managed all of the process and negotiated a significant, if not landmark, solar [and] storage project,” Zurn wrote.

LADWP officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Luis Amezcua, a campaign representative with the Sierra Club, hailed the deal as an example of the compounded benefits local governments can glean by working in concert, rather than alone.

By sharing some power, L.A. was able to find a partner to help finance the project, he said.

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The only way to get to 100% clean energy — which cities are mandated to do by 2045 under state law — is “by overcoming our similar challenges and fulfilling our similar needs,” Amezcua said.

“We want to see more projects like this and need to see more partnerships like this,” he said.

One of the challenges for Glendale is finding a way to bring in energy from outside sources.

The city lacks an abundance of what’s known as transmission — physical infrastructure, like power lines — to import energy from outside the city, Glendale officials have long pointed out.

According to Zurn, the Eland project does not provide the city with increased transmission. As a result, the city’s ability to access the energy it has purchased from Eland is contingent on figuring out the transmission piece while the facility is being built.

Glendale and L.A. will both receive their energy from Eland at the Barren Ridge Switching Station, also in Kern County, which is owned by the LADWP, Zurn said in his email, citing language from the agreement.

Each city is on its own to secure the necessary transmission to get the energy where it needs to go.

“It is our intent to work through the details necessary to bring the power to our delivery station at Air Way in Glendale through the existing transmission lines in which we already have access/capacity rights,” Zurn said in his email.

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“There remain no options for additional or new transmission at this time,” he added.

It’s another situation that highlights the need for collaboration, Amezcua said.

“These transmission projects are expensive, and they take a long time to build,” he said. “If you partner with a neighboring utility that shares these common challenges — that’s willing to split the costs and resources — that’s a lot for each of them to gain.”

Amezcua said he hopes Glendale officials will fight to get the city a share of new transmission that might come online, just as it had worked proactively to be part of Eland.

It’s unclear to what extent, if any, Glendale’s involvement with the Eland project will impact a repowering plan for its aging Grayson Power Plant.

In July, Glendale council members voted to approve a plan that included five internal-combustion engines, or ICEs, that would produce natural gas to be used as backup during high-usage periods. At the time, members said they would determine how many of the ICEs were needed when it was time to install them — which might not happen for another year or so.

During the planning process, some environmentalists, including Amezcua and leaders of the Glendale Environmental Coalition, were adamant that no new gas was needed at Grayson.

In light of the Eland announcement, Amezcua and others have said Glendale is in a better position to potentially avoid building some or all of the gas infrastructure.

“It continues to seem like it’s not likely that this [gas] power is going be needed because it’s going to be eaten up by better resources at better prices,” Amezcua said.

It’s not a view shared by Glendale’s top utility officials.

According to Zurn, the plan for Grayson left an approximately 100 megawatt power “gap” in the city’s energy needs. Eland, and the other projects the city is currently negotiating, are intended to fill that gap, not replace the gas.

“Not anticipating any new opportunities for transmission, the proposed plan would allow us to establish reliable, locally generated power at Grayson to cover peaks, act as a stabilizer for intermittent power sources (solar and wind), and to respond to equipment or system emergencies and natural disasters,” Zurn wrote in his email.

He added that by producing some local gas power, the city could use all of its existing transmission lines to bring in renewable energy.

Najarian said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach and would be open to reducing the number of engines, if possible.

“That’s what we promised — that we’re going to reassess and adjust our plan accordingly in the future,” Najarian said. “Hopefully, we’ll find the transmission, which might lead to reducing one of those engines.”

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