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Study: Long Island's smallest power plants could be replaced by trailer-sized batteries

The National Grid power plant on Shore Road

The National Grid power plant on Shore Road in Glenwood Landing in 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Replacing Long Island’s least used and sometimes dirtiest power plants with trailer-sized storage batteries could save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars while reducing emissions, according to a recent study proposing that much of the work can be done as soon as 2023.

Scores of generally smaller power plants around Long Island, called peakers because they supply most of their power during high-demand peak-summer season, are used on average only 8% of the time, yet burn the most polluting fuels in the LIPA fleet, according to the study for the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium by Strategen Consulting. Many are powered by variations of light fuel oil, kerosene and natural gas.

"The bottom line is there’s a lot we could be doing right now and within the next few years to look at energy storage as a viable option for displacing some of these older peaker units that are more polluting," said Ed Burgess, one of the authors of the report at Strategen, a consulting firm in Berkeley, California.

Replacing the old peaker plants with battery storage units could save LIPA $393 million over the next decade, the study says.

All the plants are owned by third-party developers, including National Grid, and operate under long-term contracts to LIPA. A third are used less than 1% of the time, yet cost ratepayers $473 million in annual capacity contract costs alone — a figure that could increase to $716 million by 2030, Strategen said.

The group says it’s feasible to replace some 2,300 megawatts of peak-power generating units with battery storage over the next decade, including 1,100 megawatts as soon as 2023.

That first proposed phase would see the retirement of 26 individual units across Long Island, from Island Park and Freeport to Holtsville and Glenwood Landing. Another 15 units, including a 387-megawatt plant at Northport considered by LIPA to be a baseload plant, would see another 1,109 megawatts of peaking generation replaced by battery storage units by 2030, the report says.

Reduction of CO2 and other harmful emissions could save another $163 million a year through elimination of compliance upgrades, the group said.

LIPA, in a statement, said NY-BEST’s estimates of potential savings for Long Island customers is "higher than we have experienced" in LIPA's own analysis. LIPA, which along with its system manager PSEG Long Island has been studying peaking power units and overall regional resources for years, didn't elaborate on the discrepancy.

Nevertheless, LIPA said it plans to issue a request for battery-storage proposals from outside developers "in the next several months that may result in the replacement of certain Long Island peaker or steam plants."

The transition to reduce Long Island’s peaker fleet has already begun. In March, LIPA announced it would shutter two of the units, one in West Babylon and another in Glenwood Landing, this year and next, while announcing the prospect of closing others in the future. "We anticipate additional retirements in 2024 and beyond," LIPA said.

At the same time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has issued a state goal of some 3,000 megawatts of battery storage across the state by 2030, a plan certain to result in an influx of more batteries on Long Island by that time.

The New York Power Authority, which operates plants across the state, including a 47-megawatt peaker unit in Brentwood, has already undertaken a review to determine how it can transition its gas-fired peaker plants to cleaner technologies such as batteries and greener fuels. It’s doing so with the PEAK Coalition, a Group of Five environmental justice and clean energy advocates.

NYPA president and chief executive Gil C. Quiniones said battery storage technology has considerable promise but also near-term limitations that make outright displacement of the plant in Brentwood and others unlikely, at least for the short term.

The most likely first step for the Brentwood facility is to deploy a short-duration battery storage unit combined with the use of "green" hydrogen blended with natural gas to sharply reduce CO2 and other emissions.

Limitations on battery life are another issue. Long-duration batteries are "still in the research and development phase. It’s not ready for prime time," Quiniones said. "Once they are ready we’ll be first to test them out."

But the transition to storage batteries has already begun on Long Island, with two such batteries already installed on the East End as part of a South Fork grid overhaul that will also include offshore wind power. But those two batteries, which can store around 5 megawatts of power each, make up a small percentage of Long Island’s peak-power plants.

One of the issues for batteries is cost. The two East End batteries that LIPA has contracted for its South Fork grid improvement will cost ratepayers a combined $109 million during the 20-year term of the contract, which ends in 2038, according to state filings. Those battery units were developed for LIPA by a joint venture between NextEra and National Grid.

Burgess, the Strategen study’s author, said cost is less a factor for newer-generation batteries.

"The general trend we’re seeing is battery costs have come way down partly as a result of economies of scale," he said, "and the expectation is that the trend is going to continue at least for the next five to 10 years."

National Grid, which operates 42 peaker plants on Long Island, recently created a new company called National Grid Renewables.

"Clearly there will be more battery storage on Long Island," said Will Hazelip, vice president of National Grid Renewables. "That’s core to what we’ll be doing. We’ll look to play a part to make that a reality."

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