Dine Glascow is taking on one of the power industry’s
most nagging problems-with little more than hot air.
Glascow says his Houston company, Ridge Energy
Storage, has a highly marketable solution to the wide fluctuations
in demand for electricity by pumping compressed air into limestone
caverns within the Earth’s crust.
And Ridge Energy isn’t alone. While it is negotiating
an underground site in east Harris County, Houston-based Haddington
Energy Partners also is laying plans to store excess energy in
"We think compressed air energy storage is an ideal
application in today’s market, with its clear pricing signals
on an hourly basis and open access to transmission," Glascow says.
"We think it is going to be a very big deal."
Because electricity generally can’t be stored,
it is typically produced and delivered on demand. And demand fluctuates
considerably between day and night, summer and winter. When temperatures
soar so does demand for electricity – and so does its price in
the deregulated U.S. market.
But generating plants that are already producing
power at capacity can’t produce more to meet peak demands, nor
can they cut back efficiently when demand drops. So utilities
must often buy extra power from other suppliers at inflated prices
to meet peak demands while selling off their excess power at low
prices during low demand periods.
Ridge Energy and Haddington Energy each are poised
to use their alternative way of providing electricity to meet
peak demands and deal with that volatile power market prices.
The companies plan to use cheap nighttime electricity to store
compressed air in underground caverns. During the day, when the
price of electricity goes up, the compressed air will be released
through turbines to create electricity.
The process, known as compressed air energy storage (CAES),
is more than 20 years old. But only two such plants currently
exist in the world – a nine-year old facility in McIntosh, Ala.,
about 40 miles north of Mobile, and a 22-year old plant in Germany.
Last October, Houston-based Haddington Energy’s
Compressed Air Energy Storage Development Group paid $1 million
for storage rights to a 338-million cubic-foot limestone mine
in Norton, Ohio. And last month the company signed an agreement
with the city of Norton to build a compressed air power plant
on the site of the limestone mine and use the mine for storage
of compressed air.
A separate subsidiary, Norton Energy Storage, which
will develop and operate the plant, is now seeking approval of
the project from the Ohio Power Siting Board.
The $100 million proposed power plant would initially
produce from 130 to 270 megawatts of power. With up to four additional
phases on the drawing board, the Norton plant could produce 10
to 20 times more power than the Alabama plant does.
Meanwhile, Ridge Energy Storage of Houston plans
to begin building its first compressed air energy storage plant
by the end of this year here on the Gulf Coast and anticipates
having seven plants totaling more than 2,000 megawatts of power
in operation or under construction by the end of 2004.
Ridge Energy has acquired exclusive rights to six
sites in Texas and Louisiana, with negotiations underway on several
more in the Midwest and West and one site in England.
Ridge Energy plans to use salt caverns, like the
Alabama plant, for its projects because the company’s founders
believe these formations are better than others for this purpose.