EnergyStor Abandons Upland Battery Project

GridStor and Upland Reliability Project Holdings, LLC this week abruptly abandoned their long-in-the-making plan to establish the 120-megawatt standalone battery energy storage Upland Reliability Project in the Sycamore Hills district in North Upland.
Unclear is what factors, precisely, led to the two interrelated companies deciding to scrap the effort to establish the facility, which was intended to augment the state power grid with electricity collected from the local area’s rooftop solar panels and assist in the State of California in making a conversion from its dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. It does appear, however, that Upland Mayor Bill Velto’s testy relationship with California Governor Gavin Newsom may have given GridStor corporate officials pause, resulting in their decision to seek to place the project in some other location outside Upland.
While the project’s proponents, city officials, local residents and state officials all seem to agree that the project and the technology it embodies would represent a valuable addition to the community and is worth pursuing, there is concern that it would be ill-placed in its intended location proximate to an upscale residential neighborhood and that a bruising battle on that issue might trigger unwanted scrutiny of similar land use incompatibility issues in the city’s less affluent residential districts where for generations Upland officials had no qualms about locating hazardous, polluting and sometimes life-threatening industrial operations next to homes occupied by the city’s impoverished families and less well-off individual residents. Moreover, corporate officials with GridStor and Upland Reliability Project Holdings, LLC, who have consistently sought to cultivate positive relationships with the state’s institutional employees within those divisions such as the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission and the state’s elected officials, only recently learned about the bad blood between Upland’s mayor and California’s governor that has rendered the City of Gracious Living into a municipium non grata with Sacramento.
For any one, or perhaps a combination, of those reasons, Gridstor is not going ahead with the project.
Without any fanfare, GridStor, a Portland, Oregon-based company focusing exclusively on large-scale, standalone battery energy storage projects, last year began on its end preparations to construct what was initially to be a 120-megawatt capacity facility in Upland. A few of its corporate officers had one of its agents establish a Delaware Corporation, Upland Reliability Project Holdings, LLC, on September 15, 2022, based in an office in La Jolla, which then moved to tie up some property in Upland. It settled on available acreage in the Sycamore Hills district in northwest Upland, at a location relatively proximate to an existing power line corridor.
Somewhat stealthily, GridStor began the application process with the City of Upland, which accommodated the secretiveness of the project sponsor, as the company’s executives were hoping to eventually unveil the project and run it through the official approval process involving the Upland Planning Commission and ultimate approval by the city council in a compressed timeframe. Upland, for the most part, was able to accommodate this because the city’s community development director, Robert Dahlquest, and Upland Mayor Bill Velto go way back, more than 45 years, to when they attended Upland High together and were members of the Highlanders football team.
The project proposal was kept on the down low for close to a year. Last month, however, somewhat prior to when GridStor officials had hoped the planned project might become public knowledge, residents of the Sycamore Hills district, many of whom had paid in excess of $800,000 for their homes, learned that an electricity storage facility was being contemplated in their neck of the woods. This followed by some four months the revelation that the Upland Tesla dealership, which is located in the city’s northeast quadrant at 1018 East 20th Street, just west of the confluence of the 210 Freeway and Campus Avenue along the northern periphery of the Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivision, was contemplating and indeed had already begun grading 2.07 acres of city-owned property in the Sycamore Hills District, where it began constructing an open-air parking storage facility for its vehicles. This was done with the collusion of city officials and without any public disclosure, involving a lease agreement with the city that had not been ratified by the city council. Involving the city council in approving the lease, which should have taken place but did not, would have made the leasing documents available for inspection, cluing residents into what was about to occur. The land in question, comprising a 300-foot by 300-foot square approximately 80 feet east of Park View Promenade and set back from the residential dwellings to the south by approximately 145 feet and within the vicinity of other residential dwellings to the west, was zoned as open space. Sycamore Hills residents, concerned that the unannounced project which had not yet been given formal official approval by the city but nevertheless involved city officials in what appeared to be a bootleg operation presaged the transformation of the open area around their homes into a semi-industrialized/semi-commercialized zone, considered Tesla’s parking facility to be incompatible with their neighborhood. The contretemps that ensued resulted in the city canceling the lease with Tesla and making arrangements with the company to lease acreage at its corporate yard to store the cars there.
Late last month and early this month, as Sycamore Hills residents learned of the Upland Reliability Project and began inquiries into exactly what it was to entail, they again grew concerned that the city on the sly was seeking to infuse into their neighborhood industrial level uses that were incompatible, dangerous and potential sources of pollution. In short order, they learned of two incidents relating to high-density electrical energy standalone battery systems, one in Surprise, Arizona on April 19, 2019 involving a facility storing energy for Arizona Public Service Company and another in Chandler, Arizona on April 21, 2022 where electricity was being held in reserve for the Arizona Power Grid. Those incidents involved explosions and fires which narrowly avoided turning into catastrophic events.
The facilities in Surprise and Chandlers, ones with the approximate capacity to store four hours of electricity with an output of 10 megawatts of power, enough to power 2,500 homes, were less than one-tenth the size of the facility to be constructed in the Sycamore Hills.
Safety issues with the current design of standalone battery energy storage facilities are manifold. The three primary concerns are explosiveness, excessive heat resulting in fire and consequent soil and groundwater contamination that can occur when the ingredients of the lithium-ion batteries pour out and onto the concrete floors and either migrate through the concrete or wash out of facilities and onto bare land or ground when they are propelled by massive amounts of water used to douse fires.
Residents in the north of Upland were already having difficulties obtaining, or otherwise having to go to great expense to secure, fire insurance for their homes. An incipient movement to at least question the wisdom of allowing the Upland Reliability Project to be built that close to homes if not outright prevent it from proceeding until issues with the design of such facilities were redressed to eliminate potential hazards was under way earlier this month.
Intense scrutiny of the decision-making process at City Hall and the tendency of officials there toward keeping under wraps undertakings that will have an impact on those living within their shadow resulted in an informational campaign that did not end at the periphery of the Sycamore Hills neighborhoods or the Upland City Limits. GridStor corporate officials and state officials were included in the loop, which shattered the culture of concealment that was previously the watchword when it comes to development in the City of Gracious Living.
Last year, in exchange for some hefty political contributions or promises thereof, Upland Mayor Velto had signed on to be a primary sponsor of the effort to have San Bernardino County withdraw itself and its 20,105-square miles from the State of California. Many considered that move to be a deft political ploy, which would not only provide Velto with the financial wherewithal for his upcoming 2024 mayoral reelection campaign but appeal to local Republican voters who take a rather dim view of the Democrat-dominated state government.
That, however, involved a political trade-off Velto may or may not have completely thought through. While he doubtless will benefit in some fashion from his goading of state officials and Democrat state officials in particular, his effort to push his city and county into seceding from the state entails a steep downside. One of those downsides is that Velto is regarded by Governor Gavin Newsom in roughly the same esteem that Abraham Lincoln reserved in 1861 for then-Tennessee Governor Isham Green Harris. Similarly, virtually every Democrat in both the upper and lower houses of the California Legislature – the State Senate and the Assembly – not to mention the holders of statewide office such as lieutenant governor, state attorney general, controller, insurance commissioner, secretary of state and superintendent of schools found personally offensive and outright insulting the proposal to have the county’s largest geographical county comprising more than 5 percent of the state’s population disengage from their oversight. A substantial number of people – ones fond of muttering the phrase, “California: Love it or leave it!” – consider Velto an out-and-out insurrectionist whose state citizenship should be revoked. It is unknown, exactly, what price Upland and its residents are being forced to pay during the 2023-24 budgetary cycle in terms of state funding that would have otherwise come the city’s way had it not been for the mayor’s show of disrespect and disdain for the Golden State.
Within the last two weeks, the prime movers with GridStor – its CEO, Chris Taylor; its vice president of finance, Anna Astretsova; its project development manager, Corey Barnes; its executive assistant and office manager, Maylin Brennan; its vice president for policy and strategy, Jason Burwen; its senior manager for procurement and contracts, Nicole Carrigan; it controller, Steve Caspell; its manager of finance Joshua Chandy; its project finance associate Michaela Copenhaver; its engineering, procurement, construction and technical operations manager, Daniel Dedrick; its vice president for business operations, Anne Emig; its program development manager, Matrell Everett; its transmission and interconnections manager, Ayesha Fareedi; its senior financial planning and analysis manager, Nathan Fjeldahl; it director of development, Matthew Gilliland; its engineering, procurement and construction project manager, Adam Horvath; its director of analytics, Will Jolley; its solutions architect, Alex Krall; its general counsel and chief compliance officer, Ben Lackey; its project development manager, Jarred McGhee, its vice president of development, Kathryn Meyer, its vice president of mergers and acquisitions, Jack Murray; its senior manager of market analytics, Brett Rudder; its vice president of transmission and interconnection, Esteban Santos; its project engineering manager, Kaushik Seshadri; its vice president of marketing, Jacob Steubing; its vice president for human resources, Patricia Wortham; its senior associate for commercial and business operations, Tony Ye; its vice president for asset management, Paul Zovesoff; and its director of market operations Zhechong Zhao – have come to learn that Velto, with whom their company had been coordinating to make its next major stride in facilitating California’s goal to meet 50 percent of its energy needs with clean power by 2025 and 60 percent by 2030 before reaching the goal of 100 percent of the state’s energy coming from renewable, non-fossil fuel sources by 2045, is on the outs with the state’s major political figures. In the same timeframe, they learned that their company was about to be associated with the City of Upland’s reputation for repeatedly saddling unsuspecting residents living within residentially zoned areas with incompatible nearby industrial uses effectuated by variances, zone changes and general plan amendments. Sensing a public relations Donnybrook it could not likely sustain, GridStor withdrew from the project.
Upland City Councilwoman Shannan Maust, in whose 1st District the Sycamore Hills District is located, on the Upland Nextdoor application posted on Wednesday,On October 25, 2023, GridStor submitted a written request to withdraw their application for a battery storage system project in the City of Upland. The request to close their project application was received and approved by city officials.”

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