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New Vistra Energy battery facility designed to increase reliability, value of renewables

The facility can store energy when demand is low and power up to 130,000 homes for one hour

GRANBURY, Texas — Winter weather may be what gets Texans to worry about the power grid, but its greatest strain comes during the summer. 

Monday, Irving-based Vistra Energy officially launched a battery facility they hope will help supply in times of need.

“I think of it as a supersized mobile phone almost, like that battery that powers your mobile phone,” Claudia Morrow, Vistra’s senior vice president of development said. “Summer here in Texas is super important and that’s what our goal was, our target. We knew we had to be online to meet that demand.”

Vistra says it’s new 260-megawatt facility in Granbury is the largest battery storage facility in Texas and it believes the only hybrid-powered one in the country.

Planning took years, but the project was approved in early 2020. The goal is to capture excess renewable energy on the grid in times of low demand, like at night when the wind blows strongest, but demand is lowest.

Then the batteries can push energy back out around sunset when it’s still hot and there’s strong demand, but solar isn’t producing. The 260-megawatts are enough to power 130,000 homes, but only for an hour.

“Renewable are where people are interested in seeing the power grid go, but with renewables, with the wind and the sun, you don’t always have it in the quantity that you like,” Jim Burke, Vistra’s president and CFO said. “If you only focus on one thing -- cleaner air, reliability or affordability -- if you only focus on one thing, you may not get it right.”

It’s not designed for extreme conditions like the deadly winter freeze last year or the heat two weeks ago, but it helps make renewable energy more reliable by absorbing it when it overperforms.

The batteries also can be powered up in seconds, but it takes at least 10 minutes for the thermal generator to come online. That means energy production can start immediately with the batteries but run infinitely through the plant. It also allows Vistra to provide energy without firing up the plant unless there’s a longer-term need, which prevents wear and tear on the facility while the batteries can be charged and used as often as needed without serious damage.

State Senator Nathan Johnson (D – Dallas) said there’s a need to incentivize dispatchable generation in whatever way the market dictates it more affordable and efficient to help stabilize the grid.

“I don’t think we’re going to experience blackouts. I hope we don’t experience blackouts. We do have to realize this problem we’re experiencing was 20 years in the making. It’s unlikely that it can be fixed responsibly in one year,” he said. “We don’t have a half-a-century of trial and error to make this work. The heat is real. The cold is real. The coming electricity demands are real.”

Burke said Vistra is already looking at adding the batteries to two other facilities it operates. Hydrogen is a possible future solution and the hope is larger facilities and better batteries can make energy both cleaner and more reliable.

“Texas is growing now,” Burke said. “We need these solutions now. We can’t just be in an R&D phase and hope that one day it’s going to be here.”

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