Business & Tech

Baker administration awards $20m in grants for energy storage

Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. will receive $1.1 million from the Baker administration for batteries the company will install at the Wynn Boston Harbor hotel and casino.
Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters/File 2015
Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. will receive $1.1 million from the Baker administration for batteries the company will install at the Wynn Boston Harbor hotel and casino.

The new Wynn casino in Everett will use a set of batteries from Tesla about the size of a hotel room to provide backup power. General Electric will deploy giant ice tanks to cool off its new headquarters building in Fort Point in the summer. And on Nantucket, 500 homes will get wall-mounted batteries that could stave off the need for a third power line to the island.

Once considered a fringe technology, energy storage is slowly entering the mainstream. And on Thursday, state officials provided a $20 million boost to some two dozen projects that will test the economic viability of energy storage, not necessarily the science.

“What we’re really hoping to do with this program is to jump-start the market,” said Stephen Pike, chief executive of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public agency. The grants will be matched by $32 million in private investments among the 26 projects.

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The money for the grants comes from payments by electricity suppliers when they fail to hit state-mandated renewable energy targets. The state collected nearly $38 million in such payments last year.

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Massachusetts officials have focused much of their energy plans on solar power, offshore wind, and hydroelectric power from Canada. But they also see plenty of benefits from energy storage, especially those linked to renewable projects. Toward that end, the state Department of Energy Resources directed local electric utilities to deploy a certain amount of energy storage by 2020. The projects in this round of funding represent about one-fourth of that goal.

Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson said energy storage can increase the effectiveness of solar and wind generation. Storage can also reduce electricity costs, by allowing users to tap batteries at peak times when power from traditional sources are particularly expensive. And it can help reduce pollution, by lessening the need to run fossil fuel-fired plants during peak times.

“Energy storage has the potential to be a game changer,” Judson said. “The potential is huge.”

Tesla Inc. is receiving $1.1 million grant to install a battery system at the Wynn Boston Harbor hotel and casino in Everett. The batteries will be charged by two on-site, natural gas-fired generators as well as solar panels.

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Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Boston Harbor, said the complex will be the first resort in the US to integrate batteries into its power supplies. The batteries will reduce Wynn’s dependence on the grid during times of peak demand, and also work as a backup if the power goes out.

The GE cooling system will consist of several tanks on the roof of the proposed 12-story headquarters, where water will be frozen at night when power is less expensive. The ice thaws during the day, augmenting the building’s air conditioning system. GE will pay for half the project, and it will receive a $220,000 grant for the other half.

“We thought that ice was a way to help mitigate peak demand from the building, so ultimately it becomes a better power consumer,” said Peter Cavanaugh, a GE executive involved with the headquarters project. “We felt our interests and the state’s interests are clearly aligned on this.”

Lew Milford, president of the nonprofit Clean Energy Group, said this grant program is a good start. But state officials, he said, should move quickly to establish a sustainable incentive program to support more widespread use of energy storage.

“There’s a lot to be gained from a demonstration approach,” Milford said. “But there are also huge business opportunities by scaling up this market.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.