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September 27, 2023
Texas energy company proposes state’s largest battery storage system on Milwaukee’s northwest side

A Texas company is proposing to build what would be the state’s largest utility-scale battery storage system on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

Austin-based Black Mountain Energy Storage wants to build the 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery system on about 10 acres of a vacant 32-acre site on the 6100 block of North 84th Street.

The battery energy storage system, or BESS, would draw electricity from We Energies’ nearby Granville sub-station and store it for when it’s needed during times of peak electric demand, said Jackson Hughes, Black Mountain Energy Storage’s manager of development.

Hughes on Monday told the Milwaukee Plan Commission that the system would cost $450 million to develop. The commission voted unanimously to approve the project, a first step in a longer state, regional and federal approval process.

It is not clear if Black Mountain intends to own or sell the battery storage system, which it has named American Pharaoh BESS. It has developed and sold 15 battery storage sites, mostly in Texas, to utilities or investors and has more than 30 projects in the pipeline, according to its website.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for additional information about the project.

A first of its kind battery project in Wisconsin

The state’s utilities are also developing BESS installations, but all but one that has been proposed to date has been in conjunction with large solar farms. The exception, Alliant Energy’s proposed 99-megawatt battery installation near its Edgewater Generating Station in Sheboygan, would, like the Black Mountain proposal, draw electricity directly from the grid.

Utilities and energy companies are speeding to develop BESS systems to address a fundamental challenge of the transition to renewable energy: the sun isn’t always shining and winds aren’t always blowing. Battery storage can fill those gaps, particularly in winter when days are shorter and demand spikes in the late evening and at night.

That role has historically been filled by coal and natural gas generating plants.

The energy stored at the American Pharoah BESS facility could power 300,000 homes for about four hours. The stored electricity could be sold to We Energies or another utility, or directly to the regional energy market where utilities buy and sell power on a daily basis.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission said the project would require the commission’s approval, as is the case with any energy project over 100 megawatts. The PSC has not yet received an application from Black Mountain Energy Storage.

We Energies spokesman Brendan Conway said the company is not actively involved in the project and referred questions to American Transmission Corp., the Pewaukee-based company that manages the electric transmission network in most of Wisconsin.

An ATC spokesperson said the company ” cannot discuss a proposed generation interconnection project until it is public information.”

The connection would need to be approved by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, the regional organization that manages and plans the flow of high-voltage electricity in Wisconsin, 14 other states and part of Canada. If MISO approves a project, the generator would need to file the interconnection agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, at which point it would become public information, the ATC spokesperson said.

BESS project details shared with commission

Huges said the battery array would take 12 to 14 months to build.

It would consist of more than 100 metal battery storage system units that would be mounted on concrete pads, according to plan commission documents. Each would be no more than 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet high.

The property is bordered by multi-family residential development to the north and west and by industrial uses and a rail line to the south.

Brian Randall, an attorney for Black Mountain, said a sound wall would be built to ensure the facility complies with Milwaukee’s noise ordinance. He described the noise, primarily from the array’s cooling system, as “a constant hum.”

Ald. Mark Chambers, whose district includes the site, told the commission he supports the proposal. He said the long-vacant site is sometimes used for illegal dumping.

 

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