Thinking Outside of the Box

Thinking Outside of the Box

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Jennifer Malavasi, MS, QSM (SWCA Environmental)
IECA Mountain States – Wyoming State Representative

Sometimes, when you’ve been doing something long enough, you may find yourself resisting change and clinging to the old ways of tackling problems. Staying engaged in your professional community can help keep you updated on changes in the regulatory landscape as well as up-to-speed with the latest and greatest products and trends, but it can also give you the opportunity to stay on top of market trends that may just give you a leading edge.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a Colorado Solar and Storage Association (COSSA) event called “Energy Storage in Your Community” and it really helped me to understand a new energy development sector while also being able to consider the potential impacts on our landscape. In considering these potential impacts, I had to think holistically about the bigger picture and how to incorporate best management practices (BMPs) for each step of the way.

In particular, this COSSA event went into detail about battery energy storage systems, or BESS as the industry refers to them, which is exactly what it sounds like – batteries that store energy from the grid. As it was so smartly stated, we have energy, whether it comes from oil and gas, mining, or renewables, but the problem we are currently seeing around the country is that we lack capacity. This is where BESS shines as the stored energy can be incredibly beneficial to our communities during peak energy usage times throughout the day when there’s a higher demand of the grid. BESS usually has a small footprint with a 200 MW system taking up approximately 5 acres. Figure 1 is an example of a 4 mega-watt BESS on just 0.1 acre.

Working with a team of specialists that understand erosion control, overall risk mitigation, and are strong in understanding codes for permitting and planning is an important first step to any project, and it’s no different when constructing a BESS facility. Construction is relatively minimal with the most common concerns being grading and foundation materials, stormwater run-off potential, fencing for security while also factoring in wildlife use and impacts in the area, and fire risk mitigation.

As with most of the projects in our different sectors, there are stringent safety standards and codes to follow, potential permit considerations and applications, and involvement from different referral agencies and stakeholders. One of the hottest topics that has been brought up regarding BESS is that of fire concerns. While the developers of BESS and the battery manufacturers all have extensive research and development into these facilities and containers, with numerous safeguards, including community education and training opportunities so as to best understand level of risk, I see an opportunity for erosion control professionals to lend their expertise in the construction and development of these BESS facilities. BMPs are needed from as early-on as siting locations, soil analyses, and modeling the area’s conditions to grading and selecting proper foundation materials (e.g., scoria, concrete) to considering appropriate buffers around the facility to minimize vegetation and potential fuels for fire.

While BESS may not be something you’ve had an opportunity to work on in the past, or even something you would have considered, it definitely has potential to drive the market and present  an opportunity for growing projects and portfolios in the future, where you can continue to showcase your skills and knowledge as an erosion and sediment control expert.