Santa Paula: Battery Storage Community Meeting without the Community

 By Sheryl Hamlin

Stark Turnout

The May 24, 2017 community meeting about the proposed Battery Energy Storage Project in Santa Paula drew only five people. This is in stark contrast to the first community meeting on March 28, 2017, when the room was packed.

The project manager said that notices were mailed to residents within 1500 feet of the project and a team went door-to-door visiting the nearest residents. Additionally, the notice was published on May 24, 2017 in the Santa Paula Times, the same day as the meeting.


Without Ziad Alawyan in attendance, the presentation was left to Pedro Nava, a former legislator and spokesperson for Z-Global. There were technicians on-site, so there may be a possibility that a recording will be made available, but this was not clarified. Handouts were provided in English and Spanish. There was a representative from Samsung, the battery provider, as well as the project manager Jamie.

Audience Questions

Nava stated in his presentation that the power from BESS (Battery Energy Storage System) goes directly to the Castro 16V line at the Wakefield Substation in Santa Paula. Repeated rephrasing of the question about isolating or localizing this power to the city of Santa Paula were not definitively answered. Once the power is on the grid, is it not ubiquitous?

A question about sales tax was posed. This question was also raised at the March 2017 meeting. This was not answered, per se, except with a vague reference to being “wrapped up in Edison”. Actually, there are multiple taxes on the Edison bill: city utility tax (if one exists), county utility tax (if one exists), and transmission fees (cost to use the grid) but no sales taxes. Edison provides this document for details. There will be sales tax on materials delivered to the site.

Questions about community giving programs were asked. The Project Manager said they had given scholarships and iPads to students in the past, as well as having created apprentice programs for those who wanted to learn the solar industry, but did not say if this was planned for Santa Paula.

The PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with Edison was discussed without the applicant divulging the rate or what this PPA might add to the cost per kilowatt hour. However at a previous meeting, Ziad Alawyan reportedly said the project required an investment of $20 to $30 million which could yield a return of $50 million over 20 years. A value compounding at 3.5% annually will double in 20 years, so this could be the return the investors are expecting; however, it is not possible to deduce the PPA without seeing the number of hours the project has committed to operate annually. And, of course, consumer rates are set by the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), so Edison must be able to include this new power source profitably, although the mandate to use battery storage originally came from the CPUC.

The solar panels are flat matte, unlike the original panels which suffered from glare. The panels used will be supplied by Canadian Solar, according to the Samsung representative present.

A mockup of a battery was shown to the audience, but no description of the BMS (Battery Management System) that was referenced nor could the presenters describe a startup after a power failure and how they would test for this condidion before certifying the plant.

In the event of a power failure, the plant will run for four hours at 20 MW (full buildout). The facility must meet CalISO Resource Adequacy Requirements.

The project is privately funded (investors not divulged) and will use local labor for construction.

Next Steps

The City of Santa Paula has provided a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) on its website. To download, click here. Comments must be received by June 11, 2017. Email or write the City of Santa Paula Planning Department with comments. The email to use is: [email protected]

After the MND is circulated, the project will be calendared with the Planning Commission. There was some discussion about also calendaring with the City Council, which must be clarified. There is a 6 to 8 month construction period, which means that the project should be on-line by late 2018.

Contact the applicant at [email protected]

MND Questions

After reading the MND, the following questions/issues were submitted to the Planning Department.

1. There is nothing about system operation after black-start resulting from a power outage.
2. There is nothing about testing initially to ensure the system will start after a blackout or power outage. Do they have to cut the power to SP? If so, how long?
3. There is nothing describing the BMS (Battery Management System). Is there a computer required? If so, how is it maintained, particularly its power.
4. There is nothing describing the addition of additional 5 MW power modules to reach full power capacity. Is this done on a live system? What internal configuration changes must be made to the BMS?
5. On page 184, there is a diagram of the IID site in the Coachella Valley. How does this compare to the proposed project particularly because the IID project uses GE batteries and the SP proposal uses Samsung batteries. How do these two batteries differ? What role did Z-Global play in the IID site versus what role in the SP site?
6. The proposed SP site plans to deploy Canadian Solar panels. What panels are used in the IID site and how might this difference affect the SP site?

For more information about the author visit Sheryl Hamlin dot com.

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