EnvironmentThe Examiner

Communities Grapple With Laws to Regulate Battery Storage Systems

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Local officials in multiple municipalities are discussing the possibility of a moratorium or legislation to regulate battery energy storage systems (BESS) after proposals to install the facilities have stirred outcry.

Last week, the Town of North Castle and the Village of Mount Kisco reviewed potential steps to place limits or outright prohibit the systems from operating within their boundaries. The Town of Carmel in Putnam County has held a public hearing on a moratorium and could decide whether to move forward with a temporary ban as soon as its July 10 meeting following sustained opposition against a proposed 1,600-kilowatt facility near the Mahopac-Somers border.

North Castle Town Attorney Roland Baroni advised the town to bolster its definition of a public utility so it is not faced with the prospect of an applicant proposing a BESS in their jurisdiction without recourse. As currently proposed, the legislation would prohibit a BESS within the town’s borders.

More than a year ago, the town told the operator of a facility it would not entertain its proposal on New King Street not far from Westchester County Airport because of safety concerns.

Safety has become a primary sticking point because most communities in the area are served by volunteer fire departments, which are less prepared to fight a fire at a BESS should that occur. In other areas of the Unites States, fires have burned for several day before crews have been able to fully extinguish the blaze.

“Most fire departments, and especially if they’re volunteers, are not yet willing to take on the responsibility,” Baroni said.

A BESS is a facility that stores extra electricity and then releases it into the grid at times of peak demand. In some cases, such as the proposals in Carmel and Mount Kisco, a private business would buy the energy at a lower price and sell it back to at a higher price. Con Edison has also built BESS facilities.

North Castle Supervisor Joseph Rende said he would not want to expose the town and its residents to unnecessary risk.

“I think the risk outweighs the benefit that the town would get by having these types of facilities within our boundaries where our volunteer fire department would be tasked with responding to an emergency,” Rende said.

The Town Board scheduled a July 24 public hearing on the proposed legislation

Mount Kisco has also been discussing legislation to limit the size and locations of a BESS, but last week indicated it will consider a six-month moratorium to give its professional staff and the Village Board time to assemble a group of experts and make sure any legislation is properly crafted. The board directed the village’s counsel to draft a law for a moratorium for its July 15 meeting.

Village Manager Ed Brancati told the board last week that the vague wording in the current code regarding these facilities leaves open to interpretation whether a BESS is a public utility. It currently states that a public utility includes “a device that stores energy and makes it available in electrical form.”

“That’s not a great definition,” Brancati said. “That’s what exists right now.”

Deputy Mayor Theresa Flora urged her colleagues to pursue the moratorium to help the board fully understand the issue and the implications of whatever regulations they might consider. In a village as small and as densely populated as Mount Kisco, it would be hard to place a BESS anywhere, she said.

“Is there a place for this?” Flora asked. “For me, no. I mean, I’m just going to say it. I can’t think of a place. Even Radio Circle, to me, abuts neighborhoods.”

It’s also murky whether the current applicant in Mount Kisco, New Leaf Energy, would have to abide by a moratorium if one is adopted since. They had already submitted a request for a zoning interpretation as well as a use variance.

Last week the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals agreed with Building Inspector Peter Miley’s conclusion from last December that a BESS did not qualify as a public utility because it hadn’t demonstrated it was necessary.

Brancati said what would need to be considered in any legislation is whether the village should allow a Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 BESS. Tier 1 would be up to 80 kilowatt hours, which could power a single-family home for about two days, he said. Tier 2 would be between 80 and 600 kilowatts hours and could power multifamily dwellings while a Tier 3 would be installations larger than 600 kilowatt hours.

Yorktown, Ossining and Mount Pleasant have approved a BESS within their communities.



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