The company hoping to build a vast energy storage facility at a reservoir about two hours southwest of Casper announced Thursday that it has submitted its full application to federal regulators.
If approved, the pumped storage hydropower project at Seminoe Reservoir could store and release, as needed, enough power to rival the output of Glenrock’s Dave Johnston coal plant for up to 10 hours.
“It’s a giant battery,” said Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Salt Lake-based developer rPlus Hydro. “Some people call it a water battery.”
Pumped storage is one of several tools electric utilities are leaning on to help balance the growing share of wind and solar on the grid. Projects like rPlus Hydro’s use surplus electricity to pump water from a lower reservoir — in this case, Seminoe Reservoir on the North Platte River — and store it in an upper reservoir until that electricity is needed. When the water is released, it spins turbines, generating electricity, on the way back down.
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“We can absorb the peaks of when the wind energy is really cranking out, such as around this time of year,” Shapiro said, and then “re-inject” that energy back into the grid as soon as renewables’ output drops.
The company anticipates hiring roughly 500 construction workers during the second half of the decade and bringing on about 35 full-time employees to run the plant. And it expects to pay about $9 million per year in state and local taxes.
Only a handful of pumped storage projects have made it to this stage since 2000, according to rPlus Hydro, and an even smaller number have secured the necessary permits. It’ll take regulators two years, if not longer, to scrutinize every detail of the proposal, all before the company can start building, Shapiro said.
But “the hardest part is the earlier stages,” he said, and the project made it through.
Pumped storage is a tried-and-true technology that’s been in use in the U.S. for almost a century. Though it comes with a high price tag — rPlus Hydro estimates that the Seminoe Reservoir project will cost somewhere around $3 billion — it could be in use for a century.
As pumped storage shows signs of a resurgence, rPlus Hydro is establishing itself as one of the earliest movers. Some members of its staff have been eyeing the site for a very long time.
But the company is still expecting more than a decade to pass between 2019, when it began intensive site studies, and the facility’s 2031 completion target — a pretty typical timeline for a project of its kind.
Some say the process is too long: Tim Hemstreet, managing director for renewable energy development for electric utility Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, called on federal regulators to speed up the permitting process for pumped storage when he testified before Congress in September.
“Failing to do so will make it more difficult for the private sector to commit the substantial resources needed to develop these projects,” Hemstreet said at the time.
Rocky Mountain Power is pursuing several pumped storage projects of its own, including two near Glenrock.
For rPlus Hydro, nailing down a customer for the project is still “in process,” Shapiro said. And it has plenty more to work out, like sufficient water rights, which can be tricky to come by in the parched West.
But with long-duration storage in high demand and tricky for utilities to come by, the company is optimistic about its prospects, Shapiro said. “It’s the right project, in the right place, at the right time.”