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aerial view of Terra-Gen’s energy storage center in Valley Center. North County San Diego is home to a number of similar sites, including the world’s largest lithium-ion battery energy storage facility in Escondido. Courtesy photo
aerial view of Terra-Gen’s energy storage center in Valley Center. North County San Diego is home to a number of similar sites, including the world’s largest lithium-ion battery energy storage facility in Escondido. Courtesy photo
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Sheriff investigates stolen lithium batteries worth $300K

VALLEY CENTER — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the theft of more than 100 utility-grade lithium batteries from the Valley Center Energy Storage Center.

The thefts occurred between December 2022 and January with each battery having an estimated value of $3,000, according to Lt. Jim Emig. The department is seeking the public’s help with its investigation by offering a $1,000 reward. No suspect or suspects have been identified.

The 139-megawatt battery storage facility, owned by Terra-Gen, is located at the intersection of Cole Grade Road and Valley Center Road. Terra-Gen was unaware of the thefts until at least January, according to law enforcement. 

While he couldn’t share details of the investigation, Emig said it’s likely multiple individuals were involved in removing dozens of used high-capacity batteries — each weighing approximately 250 pounds — from the facility

More than 100 LG lithium power cell batteries were stolen from a store in Valley Center. Photo courtesy of SD Sheriff
More than 100 LG lithium power cell batteries were stolen from a store in Valley Center. Photo courtesy of SD Sheriff

The LG lithium power cell batteries (model JH4-P LG NMC lithium-ion batteries) are roughly 3.5 feet by 1.5 feet and approximately 4.5 inches thick. The batteries are not intended for personal use and the Sheriff’s Department warns to avoid connecting or using the batteries because of the risk of a fire or explosion.

“The batteries should only be operated in a commercial facility and require several external design parameters to operate safely,” the department said in a press release. “The batteries must have a system to monitor current, voltage, temperature and other conditions. They require strict environmental conditions to maintain temperature parameters and a water-cooling system in case of an overheating emergency.”

In addition, if the batteries are not properly and securely installed, they could suffer damage from vibrations or seismic events. The department said without those parameters, the batteries could fail, ignite or explode.

Over the past few months, nationwide energy infrastructure, including power substations, has been the target of attacks and subject of threats. In December, gunfire damaged five North Carolina power substations. In Washington state, four substations were damaged by attacks on Christmas Day.

Between mid-November and Dec. 8, at least six other attacks occurred on substations in Oregon and Washington, according to NPR.

However, Emig said the battery theft in Valley Center was more likely a crime of opportunity seeking money in the resale of batteries.

“We have leads, but would like the public’s help,” Emig said. “We don’t have any information at this point that organized crime or terrorism is involved. We think this is just opportunists looking to make some money.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Valley Center Sheriff’s Substation at (760) 751-4400 or the Crime Stoppers tip line at (888) 580-8477.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Lt. Jim Emig of the Sheriff’s Department.

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