Rhode Island Looks to First Battery-Storage Project; Massachusetts has Funded 26 Such Projects

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Rhode Island is close to installing its first large-scale battery-storage facility. The 1-megawatt lithium-ion battery system is slated for Little Compton, as part of a multiyear effort to curb electricity use in town and in neighboring Tiverton.

Population growth in the two municipalities is nearly twice the state average, while the electrical substation is already too small for the existing 5,600 ratepayers it supports. To address the problem, National Grid spent five years promoting energy-reduction programs in hopes of cutting home and business energy use, particularly during the summer when demand is highest.

That outreach has had limited success convincing customers to sign up for energy audits and take advantage of discounts for energy-efficient products, such as lower-energy air conditioners. New solar panel installations and promotions haven’t helped either.

Rather then spend $2.9 million to expand the Tiverton substation, National Grid wants to spend $438,000 on a battery-storage unit. The expense would be included in National Grid's annual system reliability funding plan, which is paid by ratepayers through the Energy Efficiency Program (EEP) charge. The EEP charge is about the same as past years, adding 1 cent per kilowatt-hour to Rhode Island customers' bills. The proposal also seeks studies of similar electric-load choke points in Burrillville and Foster.

The vendor and the type of battery-storage system haven't been named, but if the storage system is approved by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission it would be built and operational this summer at Little Compton’s transfer station on Amy Hart Path.

The storage system would be charged from the electric grid and deliver 250 kilowatt-hours of electricity to Tiverton and Little Compton between June and September from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Tim Roughan, National Grid’s director of distributed resources, said battery projects like these will be needed to address other undersized substations in Rhode Island.

“It’s 100 percent of what we have to be doing going forward,” he said.

The Public Utilities Commission will discuss the proposal during an open meeting scheduled for Dec. 20.

Massachusetts takes aim
While Rhode Island looks to its first utility-scale battery system, Massachusetts is way ahead in subsidizing battery research and projects. In 2016, the state became the first in the nation to set an energy-storage target by pledging to install 200 megawatts of battery storage by 2020.

Massachusetts has four programs to promote battery-storage research and development. There are also incentives to install solar + storage systems at manufacturers, and even battery-storage systems for gas stations.

The latest funding awards $20 million to 26 projects across the Bay State. Those projects include $545,000 for a solar + storage system to electrify the public bus fleet on Martha’s Vineyard. The buses will be charged through a solar-fed storage system. The battery will offset higher electricity costs during peak electric-use hours.

A proposed solar array on the island also received $382,192 for a virtual net-metering project at Bayes Norton Farm.

National Grid was awarded $645,000 to develop battery-storage units at Walmarts in Brockton and Leicester. Only one location includes a solar array.

National Grid also received $1.25 million for a project to install Tesla Powerwall battery systems at 500 residences on Nantucket. The project delays construction for a third undersea power cable to the mainland power grid.

The Titleist golf ball manufacturer in New Bedford received $700,000 for a battery-storage system that improves energy use and saves the company money.

The grants were issued through the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The program and grants are funded though pollution compliance payments made by fossil-fuel power plants.