For the last six weeks, a nondescript building on Studebaker Road has quietly been sucking up electricity, then doling it back out when needed.

Wednesday, AES Alamitos will celebrate the successful completion of its Battery Energy Storage Project, or BESS, with a virtual ceremony. It marks the end of the construction phase of a $1.3 billion rebuild of the AES Alamitos Energy Center, which includes two new gas-fired, air-cooled power plants.

To watch the ceremony, live at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, go to https://fb.me/e/hE7bXLuhM.

BESS, a 45,000-square-foot battery facility, will produce 400 megawatt-hours when fully charged, meaning it can discharge at a rate of 100 megawatts for four hours. It can start or stop electricity flow or recharge almost instantly, according to Mark Miller, AES market business director for California.

"This is one of the world's largest battery storage facilities," Miller said. "It is going to play a significant role as we move forward to a renewable energy future."

More than a million lithium ion battery units linked in the building at 690 N. Studebaker Rd. and the associated infrastructure accepts electricity during low-demand times of the day — normally late night hours — then put the electricity back into the regional grid when demand is high — summer afternoons on hot days, for example. The AES generators also are "peaker plants," serving basically the same function of adding electricity to the regional supply when needed.

With the growing availability of renewable energy sources — primarily solar and wind — there is more demand for electricity storage. The battery facility can store solar energy during the day for use at night, when solar isn't available.

Miller pointed out that AES owns more than 1,000 megawatts of solar energy generation as well as wind-powered facilities.

"California has the aspiration to be carbon-free by 2045," Miller said. "…Battery facilities like this are an enabler of renewable energy platforms."

Construction began in late June 2019, and stayed on schedule. The target for opening was January 2021 — the contractor turned the keys over on Dec. 31, 2020, and electricity was being stored on Jan. 1, Miller said.

New gas-fired generator construction started in 2017, and finished last year. After construction started, the state's Public Utilities Commission passed a regulation saying the old water-cooled generators had to remain capable of operation until 2023 as a backup for electrical supply. Once that requirement is removed, AES plans to demolish the old generators and their tall exhaust towers, company officials have said.

While the construction payroll for the AES Energy Center totaled more than $315 million, Miller said the battery plant is operated by a very small crew — as few as two people. Lithium ion components, just like commercial rechargeable batteries, become less efficient over time and will be gradually replaced as they age.

Unlike some other cities where AES operates, Long Beach welcomed the upgrade with open arms, Miller said.

"The relationship with the local community, with the elected leaders, could not have been better," he said. "We've worked hard to define our role in the community… Long Beach has been very supportive."

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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