Pumped storage project gets seed money… now the work begins

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A 500 MW pumped energy storage project proposed jointly by the City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority received $18 million in the California state budget. The support will help fund the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility through initial design, environmental reviews, and the federal licensing process.

The project would provide long-duration stored energy and is seen by backers as an asset that will help avoid rolling blackouts through on-demand energy production. It also could generate revenue to help offset the cost of water purchases, storage, and treatment.

With the state funding, the Water Authority and the city now plan to start federal and state environmental reviews, seek a project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and issue a Request for Proposals for a partner to help develop the project. Those steps are expected to take at least four years, with construction completion forecast for 2030.

As planned, the San Vicente project would create a small upper reservoir above the existing San Vicente Reservoir, along with a tunnel system and an underground powerhouse to connect the two reservoirs. The powerhouse would contain four reversible pump turbines. The project could store 4,000 MWh per day of energy (500 MW of capacity for eight hours).

During off-peak periods, turbines would pump water to the upper reservoir where it would act as a battery of stored potential energy. During high energy use, the system would discharge water from the upper reservoir downhill through the turbines, producing energy. The exchange between the two reservoirs would not consume water.

San Vicente Reservoir is northeast of San Diego, near major transmission facilities, which would allow it to play a role in integrating energy from across the Southwest for use in San Diego County. The San Vicente project would be a closed-loop system holding mainly imported water and would not rely on runoff that can fluctuate from year to year.

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