Ramona Planning Group requests more information on battery energy storage proposal

Ramona Community Planning Group members have delayed voting on a proposed battery energy storage project in a residential area until they get more information.

Solana Beach-based EnerSmart Storage Holdings LLC is seeking a recommendation to the county for a minor use permit to build its battery energy storage system on a 1.7-acre parcel on Creelman Lane. The property is zoned for limited agriculture.

The system is designed to increase the grid’s capacity for renewable energy sources, officials said. The batteries can charge up during the night when electricity is plentiful, then discharge power during the day when the grid is stressed and demand for energy is high.

By an unanimous vote, the Planning Group agreed July 7 to send the project back to its South Subcommittee for more review. The subcommittee’s meeting will be held at 7 pm Tuesday, Aug. 2 at the Ramona Community Center, 434 Aqua Lane. Afterward, the project is expected to return to the full Planning Group at 7 pm Thursday, Aug. 4 at Ramona Community Library, 1275 Main St.

Two EnerSmart representatives, Co-founder James Beach and Vice President of Operations Skyler Tennis, shared information about the company’s plans and answered questions about the proposed project at the meeting.

As proposed, the project would include 39 storage containers — each about 30 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 8 feet tall and holding a series of lithium ion batteries, officials have said. The containers would be placed on concrete equipment pads spaced about 5 feet apart.

The project is set for 39 megawatts/78 megawatt hours of energy storage, officials said. In theory, that energy capacity could provide clean power to 14,000 homes for two hours and provide daily support to the electrical grid in the area, they said.

Planning Group members said they would like more details about the project such as landscaping plans and visual descriptions of proposed sound barrier walls on the south and east sides of the property.

“I need to see a visual of what this will look like so we can make a valid and thoughtful decision,” said Planning Group member Lynn Hopewell.

Creelman resident Bob Romeo called the proposal a major project that he considers to be “noisy, ugly and has the potential to depreciate his property.”

“Our community is rural with 4-acre minimum parcels,” Romeo said at the meeting. “Go find a commercial property and take it there.”

Creelman Lane neighbor Francie Stepp-Bolling said she’s in favor of the project if the sound is minimal, the neighborhood is rural and traffic associated with maintenance is limited. She said the alternative could be apartments in the neighborhood.

“I’m all for going solar — it’s the way we are going — and getting rid of fossil fuels,” Stepp-Bolling said.

Planning Group member Scotty Ensign said he’s concerned about the appearance of the proposed walls and landscaping plans and wants assurances that it will be maintained for the life of the project.

“There’s many other areas it could be placed,” Ensign said. “It could be on a hill nearby where the only people who would see it are in airplanes.”

Planning Group member Debbie Foster said she’s in favor of the concept of battery power, just not in Ramona’s backyard.

“If there is a fire you would have a major Hazmat incident because these are batteries,” Foster said. “These are massive amounts of batteries in a community that’s already burned twice.”

Beach said the chemistry of the company’s batteries is based on lithium iron phosphate, which is much safer than the more commonly used lithium ion chemistry.

“While lithium iron batteries have experienced some fire issues, lithium iron phosphate batteries are highly resilient during oxygen loss, and as a result, its cells are harder to ignite in the event of mishandling,” Beach wrote in an email after the meeting. “Our manufacturer is BYD, which has had no fire accidents in over 10 years of practical project operating experience, anywhere worldwide.”

Safety mechanisms are built into the system, Beach added. There is a fire suppression system within each container, and the proposed project is designed with multiple automatic and manual power-down/safety mechanisms, he said. Electrical and fire systems are designed to open breakers automatically during fault conditions, he said. Each container fire protection system will have a signal and alarms that would trigger container power-down during a fire, electrical fault or overheating, he added.

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