Covington residents want answers about controversial proposal to build battery storage facility

There is a lot of opposition by Covington residents about a proposed battery storage facility in the city.

Residents thought all the pushback stalled the project last year, but they recently came across an application to address wetlands on the proposed site that left many wondering what was going on.

The proposed site for a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) is next to Mattson Middle School on SE 251st Street. 

Experts say a BESS is the cheapest and fastest way to back up our electrical grid.

In Covington’s case, lithium iron phosphate batteries would get their charge from a nearby substation that already exists in the community.

The batteries will charge during low power demand and be stored away. During high demand, electricity will be dispatched to properties that need it the most, even places out of state.

In 2019, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which mandates that Washingtonians get electricity from sources that release no carbon by 2045, and BESS is one way to get there.

"We need energy storage if we are going to live off fossil fuel. It’s a necessity," said Covington resident James DeLay. 

Although DeLay understands and supports the mission of clean energy, he says BESS sites should be built in industrial zones and always a safe distance away from homes and schools. 

"What are you going to do if you have a thousand homes that have to evacuate for five days? Where are you going to put them up? In a hotel? Who is paying for that?" DeLay said.

If a fire happens, they have to let it burn because of the material. That’s what happened in Melba, Idaho last year when a BESS site manufactured by Powin caught fire in the rural area and lasted three and half days.

In 2022, a BESS site connected to AES went up in flames in Chandler, Arizona leading to evacuations for days.

 Taryn Pfeifer has been researching and closely following the proposed site for more than a year. Pfeifer is a mom of twins and also a nurse. She is worried that her family would have to move away from their dream home if the BESS site is built due to safety and health concerns.  

"We have two-lane roads and there is a middle school with 900 students [nearby],"said resident Pfeifer.

The Kent School District put their opposition on paper in a resolution last year saying that the placement is inappropriate.

The resolution stated there were potential health, safety, fire and noise impacts that would drastically decrease the quality of life for the community.

Also in June of 2023, Covington City Councilmembers posed similar questions to a private energy company, Tenaska, proposing the BESS site. Tenaska says one of the main reasons why they want to build on the private land is because the community already has a nearby Puget Sound Energy electrical substation where the batteries will draw their charge.

Tommy Nelson with Tenaska answered questions during the council meeting and assured residents that there is little risk if a site is properly built and maintained.

He also said the site would be remotely monitored around the clock, seven days a week.

Council members had many questions from noise and fire dangers to who has oversight to audit the operation. 

Tenaska at the time said they were in the process of doing a noise study.

One council member said she was struggling with all the unknowns and the lack of statistics and numbers.

But Covington city council members do not have the final say because the private land next to Mattson Middle is in unincorporated King County. 

With no movement on the county level, residents believed the project had stalled last year, but then recently, someone came across what looked like paperwork from the Department of Ecology permitting Tenaska to mitigate wetlands on the property. That left many to believe the project was moving forward.   

FOX 13 reached out to the Department of Ecology. 

Turns out, Tenaska did apply for what’s known as a Section 401 Water Quality Certification related to federally regulated wetlands, but the Army Corps of Engineers determined they don’t have jurisdiction over those wetlands, so the application was null and void.

The department says they never gave any permission to Tenaska to touch those wetlands. They say the company could apply again with them in a different process, but as of now, they say no further applications have been filed.

FOX 13 also reached out to the Nebraska-based company to see if Tenaska still has plans to move forward in the future. They did not give a yes or no answer, but Alex Martin with Tenaska answered it this way: 

"Kingfisher’s location is dictated by the interconnection into the Berrydale Substation, a much larger high-voltage electrical facility that currently coexists with the community. The team is committed to developing a safe BESS project at the best available site for delivering needed energy storage benefits. The team values stakeholder engagement and will continue incorporating local feedback throughout the process."  

Tenaska also confirmed that right now, they have no active applications but said they would follow up if that changes. 

If Tenaska chooses to move forward, they could also apply to a state agency called the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC). EFSEC’s decision directly goes to the governor for approval.

EFSEC confirmed to FOX 13 that there are no applications from Tenaska, but if one does come their way, they are required to alert city and county governments.

You can learn more about EFSEC's process here. 

Residents can also submit public comment here.

You can find more information on how EFSEC’s process differs from the two other application processes in the state here.