Massachusetts Dismisses Battery Projects // France Bans Short Haul Flights // The Great American Transformer Shortage
Welcome to Grid Brief! Here’s what we’re looking at today: Massachusetts dismisses two battery storage projects, France bans short haul flights where trains are an option, the great American transformer shortage, and more.
Massachusetts Dismisses Battery Projects
The Massachusetts siting board has dismissed two different battery storage systems. According to the board, the law does not give it “clear guidance” about whether or not battery energy storage systems qualify as generating facilities and thus fall under its jurisdiction.
“Cranberry Point Energy Storage sought approval from the Energy Facilities Siting Board to build a 150 MW/300 MWh standalone battery energy storage system in Carver in southeastern Massachusetts,” reports Utility Dive. “Medway Grid proposed to build a BESS with a storage capacity of 250 MW/500 MWh and an electric substation in Medway, about 45 miles southwest of Boston.”
Part of the siting board’s decision came out of its distinction between storage and generation.
“As a matter of physics, batteries do not actually store electrical energy,” the board said. “They don’t collect electrons from the grid, store the electrons and then later send those same electrons back.”
In contrast, the board said that batteries convert electrical energy into chemical energy by “charging.” Batteries then transform the chemical into electricity when their grid connection calls for discharge.
“Batteries involve energy, but ‘transformation,’ or the use of the word ‘transform’ by the Legislature was likely grounded in a ‘more conventional understanding’ that generation involves the use of primary energy sources, such as fossil fuels, flowing water and other renewable sources that are transformed into electrical energy through combustion, the siting board said,” reports Utility Dive. “In comparison, state law defines ‘energy storage system’ as a commercially available technology capable of absorbing energy, storing it and dispatching energy, the siting board said.“
The board also said that its regulations are likely out of date and are not sufficient to cover these battery storage technologies.
France Bans Short Haul Flights
On Tuesday, France banned any domestic flights that could be completed by train within two and a half hours.
“This is an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Clement Beaune, France’s transport minister, said in a statement. “As we fight relentlessly to decarbonize our lifestyles, how can we justify the use of the plane between the big cities which benefit from regular, fast and efficient connections by train.”
Only flights between Paris and the cities of Bordeaux, Nantes, and Lyon have been discontinued. The ban will not impact connecting flights.
“For the ban to apply, the EU insisted the air route in question must have a high-speed rail alternative that makes it possible to travel between the two cities in less than two-and-a-half hours,” reports CNN. “There must also be enough early and late-running trains to enable travelers to spend at least eight hours at the destination.“
The measure is largely symbolic. Transport & Environment, a clean transportation advocacy group, estimates the routes represent 0.3% of the emissions from flights taking off from France and 3% of the country’s mainland domestic flight emissions.
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The Great American Transformer Shortage
America is experiencing a massive electrical transformer shortage. A new regulation from the Biden administration is about to make it harder to produce transformers right when they’re in high demand.
The new regulation demands that transformers be made with a more efficient steel that the industry has no experience using. Environmentalists have touted the new rule, which debuted in December of last year, as energy saving. Manufacturers, meanwhile, say that the energy savings will be minimal and the new mandate will gum up production.
“The resulting shortage has kept builders from completing new homes and hiked the cost of replacing power lines destroyed in storms by double or more, reports the Huffington Post. “Transformers that once took weeks to obtain now require up to a year or more of waiting.”
The industry recently sent a letter to Biden urging him to enable the production of electrical steel that manufacturers have been using for decades.
“Increased domestic production capabilities of electrical steel are essential to the Biden administration’s initiatives to electrify our economy and accelerate the energy transition,” said NEMA President and CEO, Debra Phillips in a statement.
Manpower is also an issue. Buddy Hasten of ERMCO Distribution Transformers, one of America’s largest manufacturers of electric transformers, told Robert Bryce earlier this year that he can’t hire enough workers to match demand. “ERMCO made more transformers in 2020 than they ever did. In 2021, we were close to the 2020 record,” he said. “But we worked so much overtime in 2021, we had 700 people quit. Since then, we’ve hired 1,000 new people. But we could hire 600 or 700 more people right now. Getting the labor to make these things has been everybody’s challenge. This is not transitory.”
The shortage of transformers spells major headwinds for the Biden administration’s push to expand the grid and build more renewables. But it also signals that it will be harder to maintain the grid as it already exists—transformers need to be replaced when they wear out and after extreme weather events. The harder they become to replace , the more expensive and fragile the system gets.
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The European Union’s energy price protection may come to an end. “The European Commission recommended on Wednesday that all EU governments end support measures for energy prices by the end of this year to keep public finances in check and stay in line with proposed new fiscal rules in 2024,” reports Reuters. "‘All Member States should wind down the energy support measures in force by the end of 2023,’ the EU executive arm said in its annual recommendations, the fulfilment of which now has an impact on getting EU grants from the Recovery Fund.“
Qatar is in a sticky LNG situation. “Qatar needs to sell a massive amount of liquefied natural gas into a market that in a few years could be oversupplied,” reports Bloomberg. “The world’s top exporter shocked the industry a few years ago by announcing a 60% boost in production through 2027. It was a classic move to grab market share and elbow out rivals in the US and Australia. Since then, Qatar has found only a few buyers for the new supplies.“
The Department of Energy pulls support for a battery company. “The Department of Energy’s decision to halt a contentious grant award to a battery company with ties to China is fueling new concerns on Capitol Hill over agency transparency and oversight,” reports E&E News. “On Monday night, the agency announced it would not dole out a $200 million proposed grant to Microvast Holdings Inc., a lithium-ion battery company that is planning a manufacturing facility in Tennessee, seven months after the award was tentatively approved. Lawmakers across the political spectrum applauded the final decision, but said they remained concerned with the agency’s vetting and lack of transparency in its decision to scrap the Microvast grant. Critics had pointed to a Securities and Exchange Commission decision in 2022 that added Microvast to a list of companies subject to potential intellectual property violations in China.“
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