ENERGY STORAGE – NEW SOURCE OF REVENUE FOR COUNCILS
(my second submission to Council’s Strategic Finance Committee in 2021)
Local Authorities in Britain are investing in Energy Storage facilities to increase their non-rates income like South Somerset and also to make their PV Solar farms more valuable by being able to dispatch their energy to the grid only at peak times when prices are best EG Warrington. This also allows Councils to help stabilise local grids and avoid local power cuts.
Most Councils in England do not have the advantage of the natural landscape that Wicklow Council, our Council or Scottish Councils enjoy so use large battery farms as their primary investment vehicle, usually managed by a third party management company. Here are 2 examples, but there are many more.
SOUTH SOMERSET A Lib-Dem controlled Council, has recently added another 5MW of storage to bring its battery farm up to 30MW at its energy storage facility. The biggest of any Council in England.
WARRINGTON Labour-led Warrington Borough Council in 2019 became the first local authority to produce all its own electricity from green energy, owning two giant solar farms in Hull and York that are not even based in Warrington’s own Council area. These are budgeted to generate millions of pounds in profits per annum for 30 years. They are now about to launch a third one. Here is an image of the York one which is backed up by large scale batteries providing power 24×7 and 365 https://www.warrington.gov.uk/news/gridserve-completes-game-changing-hybrid-solar-farm-warrington-borough-council
NEWRY MOURNE AND DOWN COUNCIL could also site its energy storage facilities at the PV farm-sites I suggested in the last post in this series – see this link. IE like Warrington Council to allow its power to be sold for a higher price
Our Council would have no need to rent land as English Councils do, we have huge areas of land lying idle like old municipal dumps or underused like our 181 car-parks, especially those in town centres.
UNIQUE ADVANTAGE THAT OUR COUNCIL HAS OVER ENGLISH COUNCILS.
Whilst our Council can emulate Councils in England given our extensive land-holdings with connectivity to the grid, we do have one advantage in South Armagh that is very rare and similar to Wicklow County Council.
Back in the late 1960’s there were 2 giant energy storage facilities being built out in Ireland.
- One pumped-storage scheme in Wicklow was finished and now pays Wicklow Council nearly 3 million euros in rates per annum see video of this jobs-rich scheme at this link . This scheme is both a good employer and a tourist attraction.
- The second one at Camlough Lake in South Armagh that was nearly finished but abandoned by the old Stormont Regime in 1972 just before it was to be finished after the giant tunnels were built out. See BBC report at this link.
Wicklow is a real-world example of how lucrative this opportunity could be for our Council. Both in in terms of the 2.75 million Euro rates pa and the huge boost to the local economy this underground scheme creates. It is called ‘Turlough Hill energy storage facility’.
I have spoken to the ESB manager in charge of this facility and he explained that they used to use cheap-rate night time power to pump water up the hill and then release it at peak times when the price of energy many times more than normal. Now they store mostly wind power from when there is too much wind for the grid to handle.
The Strategic Investment Board have tried to engage with our Council Management about the idea of finding a commercial partner to help finish the Camlough scheme, but have had no response. I made the introductions to our Councils SMT 2 years ago.
This giant underground facility is close to the shore of Camlough lake. (see picture) A one kilometre long tunnel was drilled though the granite towards Camlough Mountain. It is wide enough to drive an articulated truck and trailer into.
This pumped hydro storage system was to have been a giant battery ready to release instant power to the NI grid. The giant turbines were bought and installed but never commissioned as the project was abandoned with the start of the troubles. 20 years later the turbines were sold for scrap.
CURRENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR COUNCIL IN ENERGY STORAGE
Firstly, we can copy English Councils and make millions for our ratepayers by building out both PV farms on our redundant lands as well as energy storage facilities as described at the top of this page.
Secondly, in terms of our ownership of Camlough Lake. In September 2020 NIE Networks embarked on a major project called “Facilitation of Energy Storage Solutions” and are seeking input from potential partners. A huge opportunity for our Council. As NI was the only grid without storage NIE Networks now needs to work out how much should be paid for power from the essential storage facilities it now needs.
Without an energy storage facility, electricity in NI was always going to be more expensive than the UK or RoI. Power stations had to be run at too high a rate for too long. The excessive consumption of fossil fuel had to be paid for by the NI consumer in their electricity bill. This was the motivation behind the huge engineering project on Council-owned land at Camlough Lake in the 1960’s.
The creation of the all-Island grid has since helped bring prices down. But now we have the problem across Ireland of balancing intermittent renewable energy on the grid. This is causing issues for the whole Irish grid and new sources of storage are essential for the future.
I would suggest that Council retain ownership of the facility and charge a very significant rent to the operator. This would be on top of a huge rates bill. I would also suggest that a ‘community dividend’ is paid which potentially would result in large sums of money being available to community organisations in the South Armagh DEA. Turlough Hill is a big tourism attraction in Wicklow. The same would be likely in South Armagh.
REGIONAL SCALE STORAGE – PARTNERS
The lack of energy storage in Northern Ireland is an issue for the the Strategic Investment Board. As without energy storage a more to 100% renewables is very difficult.
NIE Networks via their “Energy Storage Solutions” programme would appear to be an obvious partner for this project. They are the owner of the electricity transmission and distribution networks in Northern Ireland. They employ around 1,200 people and have invested over £365m in the network over the past decade to facilitate renewable generation.
There are other Councils already seeking to partner with energy companies on storage and other projects – especially Antrim which has a lot to lose when Kilroot closes. Antrim are targeting both a £600 million of investment and the huge tail of commercial rates flowing from it. See Kilroot proposed project link here; https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/northern-ireland/revealed-plan-for-600m-transformation-of-ni-power-station-39354138.html
Also Belfast Telegraph – SONI has no other storage projects on its books at the moment despite a £400 million+ budget to re-enforce the NI grid. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/analysis/some-reading-of-interest-in-sonis-draft-plan-for-northern-ireland-electricity-grid-39124482.html
OTHER TYPES OF ENERGY STORAGE COMMON IN UK
There are 3 levels of energy storage in the UK
1. Domestic/business scale,
2. Medium scale to serve a DEA sized area
and giant regional sized system that I have described above.
- Domestic/Business Scale
This would have no direct effect on our rates. It is likely that the property concerned would be more valuable and likely to increase long-term rates so long as the value of the property was below the £400,000 threshold. These systems can run a house or business in case of a power cut.
A good example of this sort of system is the Tesla power wall that collects power from the sun during the day and runs the home fuel-free when the occupants come home in the evening. It can also draw cheap night-rate power and feed this to EV’s at night. The grid also pays owners of batteries like this to take power from the grid when there is an oversupply.
2. Local Government electoral area (DEA) Scale storage
A container with 20MW of energy storage devices could be expected to pay ~£20,000 in rates pa. Hundreds of energy storage devices may be required in Northern Ireland between now and 2030. Every rural 33kv station would be a prime candidate for a storage device and there are ~30 of these in the Newry Mourne and Down District. An average of 4 or 5 exist in each DEA area.
I was involved in a successful funding application for an EU grant with a consortium of community organisations, 3rd level educational institutions and NI engineering companies to get E3.5 million to test a compressed air storage facility in my DEA. It is to be at the Ballyhornan 33kv station near the abandoned RAF airfield.