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January 22, 2024

Key Capture’s 400 MW battery energy storage projects seen as key to CT’s renewable energy future

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Key Capture Energy’s team on a site tour at a completed battery storage project in Pomona, New York.

Key Capture Energy is at the forefront of bringing renewable energy to Connecticut, ahead of the state’s goal of getting all its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2040.

The Albany, New York-based company doesn’t install solar arrays or build offshore wind farms. Its projects are based on land, usually near electric substations.

And when the projects are done, Key Capture leaves behind little more than a quiet, shipping container-like structure that’s connected to some wires.

But without Key Capture’s technology, the state wouldn’t be able to provide consistent and reliable renewable energy from intermittent sources, such as solar and wind, which are produced at the whims of Mother Nature.

Key Capture develops and installs utility-scale battery energy storage facilities, which take surplus energy from solar and wind sources during peak production, store it and then dispatch it to the electric grid when it’s needed.

Paul Williamson

“The ability of these systems to store renewable energy when it isn’t needed to meet grid demand, so that it can be used by households and consumers when demand rises, will make the transition to a fully decarbonized grid possible,” said Paul Williamson, Key Capture’s senior manager of development.

Currently, about half of Connecticut’s electricity is generated at natural gas-fired plants, which produce a constant supply of electricity when they’re running. Also, there are multiple peaking power plants across the state, which run on natural gas and provide additional power when needed.

Under the current system, electricity never gets wasted because the grid operator, ISO-New England, can turn additional power plants on when demand is high, or off when demand is low.

However, as an increasing percentage of the state’s power comes from intermittent solar- and wind-powered sources, ISO-New England will rely on battery storage to maintain an adequate power supply.

A solution

Key Capture was founded in 2016 with two employees and has grown to 100 workers across three offices. In addition to its Albany headquarters, the company has locations in Houston and Brooklyn, New York.

It’s owned by SK E&S, a private natural gas company in South Korea, which is an affiliate of SK Group, a conglomerate that had about $106 billion in annual global revenue and more than 110,000 employees worldwide as of 2020.

Key Capture has eight energy battery storage projects planned in Connecticut. Two have already received approvals from the Siting Council: one in Windsor Locks and another in East Hampton.

These will be the first battery energy storage facilities in Connecticut. The company plans to begin operating both in 2026.

The projects are 5 MW, which is roughly enough energy to power 4,000 homes. The batteries can dispatch energy for two hours, Williamson said.

Key Capture is planning an additional 5 MW project in Stafford/Willington.

Key Capture Energy’s 20 MW battery energy storage system in Erie County, New York, which is known as “KCE NY 6.”

Williamson said the company builds facilities near existing grid infrastructure, such as power lines and substations, with the appropriate capacity to charge and discharge its batteries.

“To a regular person, these facilities look like shipping containers,” he said. “While that may be true to the naked eye, they contain sophisticated battery systems that undergo rigorous testing, siting and permitting processes before coming online.”

Key Capture has four other Connecticut projects in the pipeline, at yet-to-be-determined locations. In total, Key Capture will provide 400 MW of storage capacity in the Nutmeg State — enough to power about 320,000 homes.

Clean energy goals

A state law passed in 2021 requires Connecticut to have 1,000 MW of battery storage capacity by 2030. With Key Capture providing 40% of that requirement, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has issued a request for proposals seeking developers for another 450 MW of capacity.

Connecticut’s 1,000 MW goal puts it at the front of the pack of states that are embracing battery energy storage.

Texas and California are the two leading states for utility-scale deployments, Williamson said.

New York has a target of 6,000 MW of battery storage by 2030. Recently, Michigan passed a law targeting 2,500 MW by 2030.

All New England states, except for New Hampshire, have set zero- or low-carbon emissions goals.

Lee Hoffman

Attorney Lee D. Hoffman, chair of law firm Pullman & Comley, who represents Key Capture, said battery energy storage is an essential step toward meeting the state’s clean energy goals, while maintaining a stable and reliable electric grid.

“We can’t control when the sun will shine or when the wind will blow…,” Hoffman said. “We can, however, control when we switch on our battery storage, and that allows the engineers running the grid at ISO-New England to dispatch electricity where and when it is needed.”

The switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is already happening, Hoffman said. Most of the new energy projects being proposed in New England involve wind, solar or battery storage.

Only 4% of the projects are natural gas, Hoffman said.

How it works

Key Capture makes money by purchasing wind and solar energy produced during peak production hours, when it is relatively cheap, and reselling it at a higher price, when it’s needed.

Its technology stores energy in a container similar to a conventional cell phone battery.

“A good way to think of these facilities is as larger versions of the batteries anyone uses in their regular life,” Williamson said. “As an analogy, think of a phone. Just like someone plugs their phone into the wall to charge it, and then utilizes the stored energy over time as needed, these facilities are connected or ‘plugged’ into the grid, and they dispatch or ‘utilize’ that stored energy back to the grid when needed. The technology goes through much more rigorous safety testing and protocols than batteries used in consumer electronics, but the operation is similar.”

Battery energy storage systems can also be compensated for providing critical reliability services to the grid that maintain the grid’s stability in real time, and in times of extreme energy demand, he said.

Key Capture declined to disclose its financials or how much it will be investing in Connecticut through its eight battery energy storage projects.

Besides Connecticut, Key Capture has projects in development totaling more than 9,000 MW in 14 states across the country.

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