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Issue Position: Compressed Air Storage: The Larger Vision

Issue Position

Location: Unknown

The federal government is planning to take federally-owned lands in north central Arizona and site large scale solar facilities, and also plans to bring through new power lines and smart grid infrastructure.


We now have an opportunity to take another proven technology and utilize it here in Arizona: Compressed Air Energy Storage. This is a sort of natural "battery" without the lead or other heavy metals, and acids.

Arizona has an extensive resource in the form of large salt deposits. ( Map on page 3) Two of the nine known salt deposits in Arizona are thicker than the Grand Canyon is deep.

If the federal government can spend billions of dollars on the failed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and can talk about $38 billion in new nuclear loan guarantees, then why can't the federal government spend a miniscule fraction of that to construct and maintain this new, natural and clean energy infrastructure -- a natural energy bank/battery? This sort of thing can be done and should be done around the country in strategic locations to bank excess clean, natural energy. Yucca Mountain, with miles of tunnels, could itself be easily and economically converted to a compressed air storage facility.


That converted Yucca Mountain facility would be able to service energy needs of northern California, Utah, and the northwestern United States. A system of these compressed air storage facilities would also serve as an energy repository similar in concept to the National Strategic Petroleum Reserves, which is considered vital to national security.


Salt caverns should also be constructed in Arizona for the safe storage of natural gas so there is no interruption in supplies of that energy resource either.

Excess wind energy, especially prevalent at night, as well as excess solar energy, can be banked by compressing air and storing it in these salt caverns, and released during peak demand for the extra energy. That makes solar and wind, and other renewables, 24/7. (This helps to counter the myth that we "need" new nuclear, which is the most expensive form of electricity, or coal fired electricity to provide baseload power.) When the compressed air is released, it turns turbines that generate electricity. An added bonus is there is no air pollution emitted. In comparison, demand peaking power gas generation has higher emissions during startup and shut down than when operating for a period of time, much like automobiles.

Arizona can be the natural energy battery of the West with such a facility near Holbrook and other locations. The net results are sustainable jobs for Arizona, lowered utility rates, and a more reliable and balanced energy portfolio, which helps further economic development. Good construction jobs, then sustainable operations and maintenance jobs, will come with the natural energy battery and bank. This encourages more investment in Arizona and especially in wind and solar energy. New Mexico has large amounts of wind power that could be banked here. The electricity market in southern California (LA, etc.) is geographically proximate, as well as the growing Phoenix metropolitan area. This will help lower overall electric rates throughout the West and eventually, as this is implemented nationwide, throughout the entire country. And an analysis applying the same job investment data that University of Massachusetts researchers provided to the Obama administration in July 2010, reveals that, for every $1 million invested, renewable energy sources would create nearly 20 percent more jobs than would new nuclear energy sources. (The exact figure is 18.3 percent.)

Another bonus: no risk. Oh shucks, the air spilled…or the salt spilled…We don't have to store something as dangerous or costly as spent nuclear fuel for 100,000 years. Salt has a self-sealing property due to its makeup and the weight and pressure of the salt and rock that surrounds it. In addition salt deposits are considered to be nearly impervious to geological disruptions such as earthquakes due to their soft nature, i.e. they tend to slide around rather than crack and break.

Yet another bonus -- This is not rocket science. We're mining, dissolving salt in water and pumping it out of the ground, sealing off caverns, pumping air, and pumping water during construction. The technology has been proven and publicized for years.

How would this natural energy bank work?p

Wind energy, especially the energy generated at night, is cheap to purchase on the grid, often it is just 1-2 cents/kWh. So the wind farm operator ships the electrical energy to the natural energy bank, which purchases it at that rate. Then, the natural energy bank sells the extra energy during peaking demand at, say, 4 cents/kWh, which is competitive with coal and natural gas. The natural energy bank takes a fee for its services, but also provides some of the extra money generated by the resale to the wind farm operator. The fees the natural energy bank takes pays for the natural energy bank's operation and maintenance, and eventually, even pays back the initial construction costs. The federal government makes its money back and then turns a profit, which can be used to build more of these facilities around the country, and eventually, even reducing the federal deficit. The wind farm benefits from always having a market for its excess energy, and sells more of it at a better price, pays off its construction costs sooner, is able to get financing more easily, and can build more wind farms because it has received the return on its investments. This nurtures the renewables industry.

What about the excess salt from construction?

There are other uses for the salt produced by the excavation and construction of these facilities. The Arizona Corporation Commission is also involved with rail safety. Commission staff examines shipments of hazardous materials on the railroad for compliance with the applicable federal regulations, including inspections of tank cars and containers on flat cars for proper securement and placarding. Instead of dangerous chlorine gas being shipped by rail for use in water and wastewater facilities, salt can be shipped instead so that chlorine can be generated on-site to make bleach water. The railroads have already been tasked by Congress with finding alternative rail routes for hazardous cargoes such as chlorine, but this is a better solution than transferring the chlorine gas risks on the rails to other communities. Technology already exists to create pure, high-quality bleach with nothing but water, inert salt and electricity in a vertically integrated process that eliminates the need to transport chlorine for water purification and disinfection, in any of its forms, in our communities.

We also have an extraordinary opportunity right here in the Phoenix metropolitan area in the Luke Salt Formation. The land could be part of a development that will make use of solar dish‐turbine technology and take advantage of the distinct compressed air energy storage (CAES) opportunity at the site. The site provides an immediate opportunity for construction of a "conventional" CAES facility, making use of gas‐turbine generation and
utilizing an existing thirty‐five million cubic‐foot salt cavern, which is the equivalent of 5,000MWh to 6,000MWh of energy storage, with a generating capacity of 100MW to 500MW. The location within a major electrical load center also aids in addressing transmission issues. There are 230kV and 345kV transmission lines within three miles.

What does it mean to have the equivalent of 5,000MWh to 6,000MWh of energy storage, with a generating capacity of 100MW to 500MW? For a perspective, the natural gas-fueled APS Ocotillo Power Plant in Tempe has two steam and two combustion turbine units that are capable of generating about 340 megawatts. The APS Redhawk Power Station, located near Palo Verde, began operating in mid-2002, is comprised of two identical 530-megawatt natural gas-fueled combined-cycle units.

In conclusion, my compressed air energy storage vision utilizes existing, safe technology and Arizona's unique geology in coordination with planned federal actions to enhance national security in energy independence and chemical safety. This will produce lower electricity rates, help reduce the federal deficit, and nurtures the solar, wind, and other renewable energy industries while permanently enhancing Arizona's economy.

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