A battery storage depot, with enough electricity to power the whole of Preston, could be built in a farmer’s field in Penwortham.
An energy firm wants to set up a National Grid top-up plant - one of the biggest in the UK - on 3.6 acres of pasture off Howick Cross Lane.
A planning application has been lodged with South Ribble Council for permission to build 13 steel cabins on the site to house banks of lithium-ion batteries, together with 26 blocks containing transformers and other electrical gear.
And landowner Graham Wareing told the Post: “I’m all for the environment, but I think this is a good thing.
“At the end of the day we all like turning on a light switch or boiling the kettle. It’s important not to be hypocritical.”
Battery storage is now seen as the simplest solution to maintaining a constant power supply locally when consumer demand fluctuates - times like mid-winter nights when the nation is glued to the pre-Christmas X-Factor final. This year has seen huge investment in storage depots across the UK, with Penwortham amongst the first to go before planners.
The facility will largely be on stand-by, waiting for an instruction from National Grid to offer support.
London-based Statera Energy has put in the application for a 49.99 MW facility, which can store enough electricity from renewable sources to serve more than 50,000 homes.
It has stressed that the process is “benign,” with little noise and no emissions. The site is next door to one of the biggest electricity sub-stations in Western Europe and well away from houses on the western edge of Penwortham.
But a councillor who represents the area on three local authorities - town, district and county councils - has questioned whether the project is on green belt land.
Coun David Howarth said: “If it is industrial development, does it fit in with the Local Plan?”
In its submission to the council’s planning committee, Statera says the site is the “most suitable” it could find in the region, due to its close proximity to the National Grid sub-station in Howick Cross Lane which supplies power to the whole of the North West.
“National Grid needs to maintain a frequency of 50Hz on the Grid,” says the company.
“The batteries providing ancillary services will assist in maintaining frequency by being fast and flexible.
“The facility will largely be on stand-by, waiting for an instruction from National Grid to offer support. These instructions could require output from the facility at any time, but typically between 8am to 8pm and generally on weekdays. The facility will be able to respond and support the Grid in under one second.”
Statera says the Penwortham facility will cover periods where there is a shortage of power generation, coupled with high demand, “providing energy security to the local network.”
“It is not possible to predict how much time the system will be in operation, but its operation is benign with little noise and no emissions.”
The batteries will not require the delivery of fuel and the site will be generally unmanned. Construction is expected to last for six months and after that traffic will be at a minimum.
Statera has promised the cabins and containers will be manufactured off site and delivered in modules to be craned into place. There will be a maximum of 10 HGV visits a day.
Graham Wareing revealed he had been approached by “half a dozen” other energy companies to lease his field at the rear of the Penwortham sub station.
“I dare say there will be some people against it,” he said at his home, nearby Howick Hall Farm. “But we already have a huge sub station and lots of electricity pilons here.
“None of us will be able to see the site. It won’t be visible from the lane, it won’t make any noise and there will be no discharge from it.
“Having a facility to top the Grid up when the local supply dips is important.
“I’m not putting forward the application myself, I’m just giving a company the option to pursue a planning application.
“I’ve been approached by quite a number of companies to do this - at least half a dozen - and so too have other landowners around here. So it must be quite an attractive area being so close to such a big sub station.
“Battery storage is quite a big thing now. The plant they want to build here isn’t big, but what it will be able to do is quite something.”
Close eye to be kept on public reaction to idea
The councillor who represents Howick on Penwortham, South Ribble and Lancashire County Councils says he has been “surprised” by an apparent lack of interest in the plan so far by residents.
“We have had absolutely no feedback whatsoever,” revealed Coun David Howarth. “The plans are up in the community centre at Kingsfold and they have been advertised in the local area.
“But there doesn’t seem to have been any public reaction so far. At the town council meeting last week the question was raised about whether it is on green belt land. If it is they would need special permission.”
A bottling plant at nearby Pollards Farm in Howick Cross Lane was shut down after years of argument because it was deemed to be industrial development on green belt. The proposed battery store would be adjacent to that site.
“I will be keeping a close eye on this application because there does seem to be a contradiction here,” added Coun Howarth. “It is next to Pollards Farm and the whole argument against that was it was commercial development on green belt.”
Two residents further down Howick Cross Lane admitted they were unaware of the planned battery store.
One, who asked not to be named, said: “To be honest I’m not that bothered about this when you look at the size of the sub station we already have up there.
“I can’t see it affecting us.”
Waking up to benefits
For years battery storage has been seen as “the next big thing.”
Now, with improvements in technology and reductions in cost - lithium-ion batteries fell in price by as much as 24 per cent in 2016 alone - it has finally become commercially viable and hugely attractive to investors.
Grid-connected battery facilities are planned at various sites around the UK and, at 49.99 megawatts, are each capable of supplying 50,000 households.
They are seen as the most practical answer to a number of balancing issues facing the National Grid.
When demand is high and supplies cannot cope, a site like Penwortham can provide an instant top-up on demand to satisfy requirements locally.
The technology has been led by the US, Japan, Germany and Korea.
But now the UK has started to wake up to its benefits.
Statera is already building two other 49.99 MW storage facilities in Yorkshire and Essex and will start construction of a third site in Wolverhampton in the New Year.
The company wants Penwortham to be its fourth.