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Electric co-ops to test long-duration batteries

October 2023

Power transmission lines. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury

Virginia’s smaller, more rural network of electric service providers is the latest group to test the waters of long-duration battery storage as it awaits an infusion of funds from the federal government.

This fall, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative will receive major funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations to install a vanadium flow battery from Invinity Energy Systems on Smith Island in Maryland.

Exactly how much ODEC will get remains to be seen — the office is putting $325 million toward 15 projects around the country, including the Smith Island battery, but specific amounts haven’t yet been negotiated.

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is the power service provider for many of Virginia’s electric cooperatives, the smaller utilities that provide energy for predominantly more rural areas of the state outside of Dominion and Appalachian Power Company’s service territories.

The co-op’s new battery project, which will also be tested in four other locations around the country in coordination with the National Renewable Cooperative Organization, will be able to dispatch 700 kilowatts of electricity for up to 18 hours. The more common lithium-ion battery type typically can only dispatch power for up to 4 hours.

“ODEC is honored to be selected by DOE and excited about the possibilities of pioneering energy innovation and grid resilience simultaneously,” said Chris Cosby, senior vice president of power supply at ODEC, in a statement. “The Smith Island battery project will enable ODEC to provide more reliable, clean power during hurricane season, winter storms and other outages to our most remote members at the end of the line.”

Battery storage technology is widely seen as a critical component of the transition to clean energy because of its ability to deliver electricity to the grid when solar and wind can’t due to cloud cover or lackluster wind speeds.

As electric utilities have begun incorporating more batteries into their fleets, many are eyeing emerging long-duration technologies as a way to provide more flexibility to meet grid demand on a moment’s notice. This September, Dominion filed a petition with the State Corporation Commission, which regulates Virginia’s utilities, to pilot a long-duration battery that could dispatch energy for up to 100 hours.

While the ODEC battery will be housed on Smith Island, Maryland, coop leaders say it will also benefit Tangier Island, Virginia. Both islands are served by A&N Electric Cooperative, which operates a roughly 12-mile underwater power line from the Eastern Shore to Tangier Island that then is connected to Smith Island by a roughly 6-mile line.

During times of storm outages, or when that feeder line needs repair, A&N Electric must run diesel generators to maintain service, explained ODEC spokeswoman Kirby Jordan.

“This storage facility should be able to significantly reduce or possibly replace the use of the diesel generators and provide hours of supply during emergencies,” Jordan said.

Mike Keyser, president and CEO of the National Renewable Cooperative Organization (NRCO), said in a statement that the new project, “is about co-ops bringing innovation to rural America that provides new economic opportunities while also enhancing grid resilience and charting a path to a cleaner energy future.”

The project will join two other battery storage programs Virginia’s cooperatives currently have. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which serves the Piedmont and northwestern parts of the state, has a 2 megawatt battery in Spotsylvania County with eight hours of dispatch capability. Community Electric Cooperative, serving the area just west of Hampton Roads, offers battery storage for residential and commercial customers through a partnership with e-On batteries, and uses a 60 kilowatt battery to power its corporate offices.

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence.