ARES files rail energy storage and transmission application with Nevada PUC

ARES Nevada LLC, the developer of a novel energy storage project using rail vehicles operating on a slope, filed a March 25 application with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to add transmission facilities to connect the project with the grid of utility Valley Electric Association (VEA).

ARES Nevada said that the first-of-its-kind $55m project is designed to provide ancillary services in the California ISO (Cal-ISO) market to aid the integration of renewable resources.

The 50 MW Advanced Rail Energy Storage system would provide grid-scale storage by either using electricity to push electric shuttle trains up a steep rail slope or, when descending, use the locomotives’ motors as generators to send electricity to the grid, according to the application. The rail vehicles would include electric locomotives and multiple weighted cars.

The facility, planned for the Carpenter Canyon area east of Pahrump, Nev., in Nye and Clark counties, would provide 12.5 MWh of fast-response energy to assist the balancing of wind and solar facilities connected to the Cal-ISO grid, ARES Nevada said.

VEA, with facilities in both Nevada and California, is part of the Cal-ISO balancing authority area, and the project would respond to commands on usage from the Cal-ISO, ARES Nevada said. The locomotives would generally be at mid-elevation along the planned 5.5-mile railway until a command is received from Cal-ISO. ARES Nevada said it will bid into the daily Cal-ISO ancillary services market to stabilize output from renewable energy projects.

On its website, ARES Nevada said rail energy storage technology bridges the gap between smaller battery and flywheel storage applications and larger pumped hydro storage projects, at a lower life-cycle cost than batteries, higher energy-to-power ratio than flywheels, and greater efficiency and faster ramping than pumped hydro storage projects.

The speed at which the locomotives climb or descend would vary based on the demands from the grid operator, according to the application.

The rail project would be located on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which recently signed off on ARES Nevada’s 2014 application, ARES Nevada told the PUC. The company said that in late February, the BLM issued an environmental assessment (EA) of the project, with a finding of no significant impact.

The project’s life span is expected to last 40 years or more, with only routine maintenance, ARES Nevada said in a March 28 statement.

The project “will be a world-class facility and a point of pride for Nevada,” Jim Kelly, CEO of parent company Advanced Rail Energy Storage LLC, said in the statement.

“The power production is clean and renewable – operation of the project requires no water or fossil fuel, and creates no hazardous waste or emissions,” Kelly said.

Construction is expected to last less than one year once all permits and environmental compliance steps are completed, the company said.

Given the Cal-ISO interconnection process and timing on a notice to proceed from the BLM, ARES Nevada anticipates starting construction in late 2017 or early 2018, with operations beginning in early 2019, according to the application with the PUC.

ARES Nevada had filed a notice of the BLM application with the PUC in 2014, and because Nevada regulations require applications to be filed within 30 days of a final EA, it filed the application to add two short 230-kV transmission lines, a substation and related facilities to connect with the VEA grid.

The project would include a new substation – the ARES substation – within its footprint, and two 230-kV transmission lines and related facilities to connect with VEA’s existing Gamebird Switch Station. One of the transmission lines would be 3,870 feet to connect the substation to an existing VEA transmission line, and the other would be 6,260 feet to connect with the Gamebird Switch Station, ARES Nevada said in the application.

In addition, about 5,200 feet of VEA’s existing 230-kV transmission line would be removed for the project, which would have a total footprint of 72 acres on BLM land.

The new transmission facilities needed for the project “will be constructed by VEA within the existing Gamebird switch station right of way,” ARES Nevada said.  

The rail facilities do not meet the definition of a railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration has not exerted jurisdiction over the rail line and related equipment, the company noted in the application.