Planning commissioners raise questions about battery storage facility

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on February, 26, 2020, is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The Santa Clarita Planning Commission had several questions about a proposed lithium-ion battery storage facility in Canyon Country when it decided Tuesday to continue its review of the project to Sept. 21. 

Commissioners raised questions about the location and fire and seismic safety of the proposed 55,000-square-foot, 80-megawatt facility planned for 3.5 acres of undeveloped land at 18358 Soledad Canyon Road, 450 feet east of the intersection of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road.  

“We don’t want to be responsible for ‘unlikely or rare,’” said Planning Commissioner Lisa Eichman in response to comments about the facility’s safety made by Mark Turner, a representative for the renewable energy company proposing the facility, Terra-Gen, which is based in San Diego. 

In discussing the safety of battery storage technology, Turner repeatedly assured commissioners that “thermal runaway” events, when a part of a battery storage facility catches fire, are rare. 

“These projects are designed to be safe in your community,” he said, noting that any possible fire would occur at the level of the module, the building block of a battery storage facility, and would be met with layers of fire suppression.  

Turner said there are hundreds of modules in an enclosure, of which he said there would be 100 on a site enclosed by 8-foot and 10-foot walls meant to prevent fires from entering or leaving. 

Despite Turner’s assurances that the facility would be compliant with fire and seismic safety codes, commissioners wanted more information. 

Planning Commission Chairman Dan Masnada said he’d like the city staff to explore inviting the Los Angeles County Fire Department to its next hearing on the project. 

He also asked to learn more about any agreements between Terra-Gen and Southern California Edison, which operates an electricity substation close to the proposed battery storage facility. 

Turner said his company had sent a letter to Southern California Edison offering to provide battery power to the substation, but had not received a response yet. 

He continued that the proposed facility is strategically located in a “load center,” with the intent of preventing outages associated with public safety power shutoffs, or PSPS events, that take electric lines off the grid due to conditions that increase the risk of wildfires.  

“This project provides really important reliability or resiliency services directly to the local community that it’s located in,” Turner said. 

Carol Fish, who lives in a senior mobile home park approximately 1,000 feet east of the proposed project site, raised concerns about the impacts a fire at the facility could have on neighbors. 

“Could we put it out somewhere a little bit farther away from people?” asked Fish. “I understand the need for sustainable energy and I agree, but I don’t feel like this is the place for it.” 

A battery storage project is a “newer concept” for Santa Clarita, said James Chow, a senior planner with the city of Santa Clarita, who noted that the nearest residences to the project are 150 feet away. 

Commissioners asked Chow and his team to contemplate setbacks, firefighting requirements and the location for the proposed project, as well as develop a list of sites in the city where projects like this could be proposed. 

Three projects receive approval 

The commission approved three projects Tuesday night, including a 51,000-square-foot, 120-bed skilled nursing facility on the east side of Valley Center Drive, between Soledad Canyon Road and Golden Valley Road. 

“The demand for new skilled nursing facilities in the state of California is huge,” said Clay Corwin, president of StoneCreek Co., which is developing the facility. 

Clark Nelson, vice president of operations for Providence Group, which will be operating the facility, said the nursing facility will be a “24/7 extension to the acute hospital.” 

“We take care of clinically complex patients that need wound care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, IV therapies,” he said. 

The commission approved the project, which will be immediately to the south of a recently approved self-storage facility, with the condition that Corwin explore adding shade structures to the employee rest area, planting 36-inch and 24-inch box trees and adding electric vehicle parking spaces. 

Commissioners also gave unanimous approval to a modified plan for part of the Sand Canyon Plaza, which was originally approved for 60,000 square feet of commercial retail space, an 85,000-square-foot assisted living facility, a large water feature, and a 264-space parking structure. 

The approved plan will now feature two smaller water features, no parking garage, 45,000 square feet of commercial retail space, and 147,000 square feet for the assisted living facility. 

Tom Clark, the owner of Sand Canyon Plaza, said the project has made a lot of progress since it was first approved in 2017. 

“There’s been a lot of work done to be ready to go,” he said. “I think if all goes well, we’re planning to break ground in November.” 

Dale Donohoe, the project’s commercial developer, said the retail has “taken on a new life form” because of the pandemic. 

“The centers we develop now are mainly food, service and health and wellness, and the time of competing against Amazon is over because a lot of our retailers have just given up,” he said. 

Donohoe, who developed and owns Bridgeport Marketplace in Valencia, said a grocer will anchor the commercial area, which will also include restaurants and health and wellness stores. 

“That will be able to service the immediate area, people coming off the freeway, and then also the greater community at large,” he said. “Hopefully we can get some nice restaurants so that we can attract (people) to go to the east side of town.” 

The assisted living facility will use its additional space for amenities, while maintaining a 140-bed capacity, according to Bryan Zeibart, of Link Senior Development, which will build the facility. 

“It’s really critical for all of our projects that we have a really substantial amount of common area amenity space for residents to engage with each other,” he said. 

Lisa Shelton, of Insight Senior Living, which will operate the assisted living facility, said the space will include a dine-in theater, cybercafé, demonstration kitchen and other amenities. 

“We’re looking at seniors being able to not be in a remote building but really being part of a community where they can step out and they can walk and go to restaurants or some of the services right there,” she said. 

The Planning Commission also approved a permit for a proposed 2,400-square-foot convenience store in the Flying Tiger Plaza commercial shopping center off of Sierra Highway just north of Via Princessa.   

The existing space will be operated by the shopping center’s owner, which received approval to sell liquor in the store. 

“It’s going to be a high-end establishment. We’re going to have a high-end design to go along with the building,” Jacob Dib, the property owner, told commissioners. “Being the property owners … we’re going to have zero tolerance for loitering, for vandals. We’re going to work well with the other tenants in the building.” 

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