As wind and solar power become ever-larger parts of the power production landscape, a question that was once academic becomes more and more urgent. What will we do at times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? One potential answer lies with compressed air energy storage (CAES).

The technology is taking a step forward in Palestine, Texas, where Houston-based, private-equity-backed Apex CAES is building a $350 million-plus facility. The plant will begin construction in May and could be online as soon as the middle of 2016, according to The Palestine Herald.

CAES technology runs compressors at off-peak hours when electricity prices are low, driving air into an underground storage cavern. When prices are high, the system turns around and uses the compressed air to run turbines and send electricity back into the grid.

The Texas plant, a 317-megawatt facility known as the Bethel Energy Center, will be based around a salt dome, a natural structure that can be transformed into a cavern to house the compressed air. The company said the facility will cover 15 acres between the production equipment and an office building. It plans to have 200 workers on site during the construction phase and then hire 20 to 25 people to run the plant once it’s fully functional.

The first CAES plant was built in Huntorf, Germany, in 1978, but the technology has been slow to catch on. In recent years, though, energy storage has become an increasingly hot topic as utilities and regulators consider the best ways to address high demand at peak hours and integrate renewable energy sources into electrical grids.

Apex CAES said in a filing with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the Texas facility will help integrate the increasing amount of renewable energy in the area. It said installed wind capacity on the region’s grid has increased from 863 megawatts in 2002 to 9,609 by the end of 2011.

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