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Tesla Batteries In The Mountains? Squaw Valley Could Soon House A Bunch

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

A Tesla Powerpack can absorb, store and redistribute energy from wind, sun or other sources. Squaw Valley Ski Resort is hoping to use these or backup power.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

A sleek, white, refrigerator-sized box was on display in Squaw Valley’s ski village Monday, drawing eyes from passersby on their way to the slopes. It’s called a Tesla Powerpack, and it could be part of a new energy-storage solution for the resort and nearby homes.

Liberty Utilities — the gas and electric provider for the town of Olympic Valley — is looking at buying Powerpacks and storing them at Squaw. The batteries would be part of a “microgrid” that could support the ski resort and about 900 homes in the area for about four hours if the main power system fails.

Andy Wirth, president and COO of Squaw Valley ski holdings, said this is part of the resort’s mission to run entirely on renewable energy by the year’s end.

“We have high energy demands running the ski area, which includes chairlifts, snow guns and the like,” he said. “We’re looking to run the ski area for about four to six hours on this backup. That is truly utility-grade, strategic-level energy storage."

Tesla’s Powerpacks are already in use at luxury resorts worldwide as well as on private California properties such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico and La Crema winery in Sonoma. They don’t work alone, but they harness and store energy from solar, wind and other sources.

Tim Sasseen, an expert with the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego, said the technology makes sense for businesses that need a lot of energy during operation hours, but have low demands at other times.  

“They want to maintain uptime, they want to maintain power for their customers and for the people staying at those resorts, so that’s one primary application,” he said.

The partnership between Squaw, Liberty and Tesla is part of a new wave of public-private collaborations on energy storage, according to Sasseen. Southern California Edison recently installed enough of the batteries to power 2,500 Los Angeles-area homes for a day.

“That’s quite new, and it requires some special arrangements with the power utility,” he said. “But it’s pretty exciting.”

In Olympic Valley, the batteries would get charged with surplus grid energy from Liberty Utilities power lines at low-demand times. When demand is high or if there’s a power source interruption on the main grid, the Tesla batteries would serve as backup.

The large lithium-ion batteries would live high on the Squaw Valley slopes, near an existing materials storage facility. Sasseen said there’s still a disposal problem with these batteries, which are difficult to recycle. Businesses that use the Powerpacks usually return them to Tesla when they die.

Liberty Utilities does not have a current cost estimate for the Tesla Powerpacks, which are made at the Tesla factory in Sparks, Nevada. Their proposal is still waiting on approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Andy Wirth is a member of the Capital Public Radio’s board of directors.

This story was updated on Feb. 7, 2018. It originally referenced one Tesla battery. The resort will be using several batteries. 

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