Groundwater concerns help pull plug on energy storage idea

an icon of a pill bottle

A proposal to “bank energy” for seasons at a time—by requiring California’s independent grid operator to buy large-scale storage, and pass the cost to ratepayers—flickered out in the Senate.

Supporters had argued that more storage could help propel the state toward its renewable energy goals by balancing the ebb and flow of solar and wind power when the sun sets or the wind stills.

Now, the main grid-scale option in California is pumped hydroelectric energy storage. That’s a two-reservoir system where water is pumped from a lower-elevation reservoir to a higher one when electricity is cheap. Then, when demand climbs or supply dwindles, the higher-elevation reservoir releases water to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

But environmental groups argued that the bill, SB 772, favored one particular pumped hydro project at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park—a project that could endanger the park’s precious groundwater supply.

Opponents prevailed: When the bill didn’t have enough votes, its author, Democratic Sen. Steven Bradford of Gardena, shelved it.

—Rachel Becker