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Battery storage site at former Petaluma golf course to begin permitting process

Touting the results of a newly released economic impact report predicting millions in new revenue, officials with Strata Clean Energy are preparing to file a formal permit application for a battery storage facility on Petaluma’s southeastern edge.

The planned 100 megawatt installation, likely utilizing Tesla technology, would be the first of its kind in the North Bay, and could breathe new life into the shuttered Adobe Creek Golf Course, which closed in 2017 amid mounting debt.

Long-linked to a proposed 9-hole golf course and dozens of new homes near Frates and Old Adobe roads, the battery installation project will for now move forward on its own, carving off a 5-acre slice of the property adjacent to PG&E’s largest North Bay substation.

The $116 million battery storage project, seen by many as the latest salvo in the state’s fight against climate change, is touted as a boon to the local economy as well as a key protection for residents who must regularly brace for power shutoffs.

It has already earned a thumbs-up from the majority of neighbors, and local officials have also expressed support for the installation, which must still secure approval from Sonoma County planners – a step company officials expect to begin in the coming months.

“Being right next to the substation is the ideal location in the North Bay, so it makes sense,” said Petaluma City Council member Mike Healy. “It allows our entire region to successfully deploy more solar without causing problems with the system…and it probably puts us in a better position for certain types of power outages.”

The 145 Tesla Megapacks planned for the site are each 23 feet by 5 feet, and will combine to store enough energy to power 80,000 homes for four hours, said Will Mitchell, vice president of business development for Strata Clean Energy’s west coast operations.

The construction and ongoing operation of the facility is also expected to bolster the county’s tax base and add a cash infusion to the region’s economy, according to a study by Sonoma County economist Robert Eyler.

The Strata Clean Energy-sponsored study, released in June, projects $61 million in business revenue, $6 million in state and local tax revenues and $14 million in property tax revenue during the project’s first two decades, as well as 90 jobs during initial construction.

Along with county permitting requirements, the facility must reach agreements with PG&E to ensure access to the grid. Mitchell said Strata Clean Energy officials hope to begin construction in 2023 and begin operations in the summer of 2024.

Richard Coombs, the managing member of Adobe Investments, which owns the former golf course site, has long puzzled over next steps since shutting down Adobe Creek Golf Course in 2017, as annual losses spiraled to $200,000. Despite a $12,000 annual vegetation mitigation budget, Coombs has come up for criticism from neighbors who have called the former course an overgrown eyesore and fire hazard.

But with movement on the property in sight, Coombs said in a statement that he’s excited for coming developments.

“We are excited to be working with Strata Clean Energy on their battery storage project,” Coombs said. “We are also actively working with our adjacent Adobe Creek neighborhood association and the City of Petaluma on the balance of the closed golf course with the goal of reopening a 9-hole golf course completely irrigated with reclaimed wastewater.”

Although the majority of the 320 homeowners in the area have voted to approve two of Coombs’ plans since the course’s closure, not all residents are on board with the battery storage site.

Former Old Adobe Home Owners Association President Sally Hanson said the battery installation amounts to turning her and her neighbors into guinea pigs for the new technology, which she worries could be unsafe. And she expressed concerns about neighbors having little say on what goes in the area, which is situated on county land within the city’s urban growth boundary.

“I have big concerns, and I’m not happy about it,” said Hanson, who has lived at her home on the ninth fairway for 23 years.

Company officials say the technology is safe, with surveillance and infared cameras in place to monitor the site, and automatic shut-offs built in to keep fire risk to a minimum.

When Strata Clean Energy presented plans to neighbors last fall, the North Carolina-based company had not yet completed an installation. But an identical project came online about a month ago in Ventura, Mitchell said in a phone interview Friday.

The installation planned for Petaluma would be a quarter-mile from its nearest neighbors, concealed behind a berm and adjacent to PG&E’s largest North Bay substation, meaning residents will hardly notice it, Mitchell said.

“This is absolutely the wave of the future,” Mitchell told the Argus-Courier last year. “It’s going to be done in a safe and reliable way.”

The massive battery installations, which are being built throughout the state by the handfuls, are touted as an alternative to natural gas power plants, particularly those used to bolster energy stores during peak demand times.

Sixty-five of California’s 80 natural gas power plants are “peaker plants,” designed to throttle up and down quickly to ensure stable energy during peak demand.

With the potential for the facility to ease reliance on fossil fuel while adding protections in case of power shutoffs, the project has drawn praise from county officials, Mitchell said.

“In Sonoma, there is a need and a desire to see projects like this – for reliability, clean energy and public safety power shutoff needs,” said Mitchell, pointing to support from Sonoma Clean Power, the county’s lead clean energy solutions agency.

Tyler Silvy is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Reach him at tyler.silvy@arguscourier.com, 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.

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