- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indianapolis Power & Light is moving ahead with plans to build a battery array capable of storing 20 megawatts of power that will help meet its customers’ energy demands during heat waves and other high-energy consumption times.

The $25 million project, slated to go online next summer at IPL’s power-generating station on Indianapolis’ south side, will be equipped with rows of large lithium-ion batteries housed within a large building. The company said that complex will be the first large-scale energy-storage system within the 15-state regional power transmission entity known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc.

IPL President and CEO Kelly Huntington said the project would help the utility “address a number of grid challenges,” including boosting it during peak energy-consumption periods and more efficiently balancing supply and demand.

The utility supplies power to more than 480,000 homes and businesses in Indianapolis and surrounding areas.

Utilities are increasingly investing in energy-storage systems that use batteries and other technologies such as on-demand hydroelectric dams, said Matt Roberts, executive director of the national trade group Energy Storage Association.

Currently, the U.S. has 343 operating energy-storage systems of various types that can store about 21 gigawatts of power, but about 200 other projects are in development, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Roberts said those systems can store energy from wind and solar farms during their peak times of power production and could help reduce demand for building new natural gas peaking stations, which are put into use only during the highest periods of energy consumption.

“During August heat waves, when all those forces collide, you can have some very high peaks that only exist for a fraction of the year,” Roberts said. “So instead of building a natural gas plant just to address those peaks you could use energy storage to help reduce that peak.”

IPL’s parent company, AES Corp., has 86 megawatts of battery-based energy storage projects in operation and another 260 megawatts of storage capacity in development. One project already online is a 32-megawatt energy-storage complex in Belington, West Virginia, that’s linked to an adjacent 98-megawatt wind farm.

IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy said the battery array will be built at IPL’s power station where a coal-fired power plant is being converted to cleaner-burning natural gas. It will be charged by power coming directly from IPL’s electrical grid.

Jodi Perras, the Indiana representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the environmental group is disappointed that the power won’t be coming from a solar farm at the Indianapolis International Airport a few miles to the west. IPL draws power from that solar farm as part of its goal to eventually have 99 megawatts of solar-generated electricity.

“The best use of batteries, in our view, is to smooth out the intermittent nature of solar and wind power so it can be more easily pushed into the electric grid,” Perras said.

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