Battery storage facilities across Long Island, intended to replace small fossil-fueled power plants, face opposition from some residents who are afraid they pose a fire hazard. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara, John Paraskevas; Randee Daddona

As developers line up in preparation for dozens of battery storage facilities across Long Island to replace a generation of small fossil-fueled power plants, they likely will face growing unease from residents about potential fire hazards and whether they're being provided enough information.

A list of proposed facilities that have signed up for grid connection through the New York Independent System Operator shows developers eyeing sites from Southold and Quogue to Far Rockaway, many at or near LIPA substations that house small power plants.

All will require state and local approvals that some municipalities already are wary of providing. Southold and Southampton have moratoriums on battery systems, and at least one other Long Island town is considering such a move.

Battery storage plants are an important pillar in plans by the state and LIPA to transition the electric grid to all green energy by 2040. The battery plants house structures packed with lithium-ion cells, which can store power to help stabilize the grid when wind and sun power aren’t available. The plants include sophisticated battery management and fire suppression systems that proponents say make them safe.

But as project plans begin to make their way through approval processes, residents aware of recent fires at some battery storage locations are growing uneasy.

“It blows my mind what they think is safe,” said Ben Caccavale, who lives a few hundred feet from the proposed facility along the Long Island Expressway Service Road and Morris Avenue in Holtsville, where residents have expressed concerns about the project’s potential safety impacts.

A Newsday review of applications filed with the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state grid, found that a roster of 50 separate projects have signed up for potential connection to the power grid over the next three years. While not all of them will be built, developers are seizing upon the state’s call for about 6,000 megawatts of battery storage by 2030 and LIPA’s own plan for at least 750 megawatts in the same period.

“The state as a whole has identified a really large 6,000-megawatt need for energy storage systems across New York State, a lot of that being located in Long Island due chiefly to the amount of offshore wind energy” slated for the region, Camille Kaynor, development manager of energy company Savion, said to residents at a forum in Holtsville on Monday. “So what I can say is that Holtsville might be one of the first projects, but it is certainly not the last.”

LIPA notes that many of the developers have filed the plans to “hold a place in the interconnection queue” should their projects get selected by LIPA or the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which also is awarding the contracts. 

Some of the plants that have applied for connection are considerably larger than a six-acre facility planned for Holtsville.

Among the projects that have requested grid connection between now and 2026 are a 300-megawatt project at Glenwood Landing, a 200-megawatt project planned for the E.F. Barret power station in Island Park, and a 400-megawatt facility eyed for Port Jefferson. The facility planned for Holtsville is smaller by comparison — 110 megawatts. 

Many of the facilities would replace existing small fossil-fuel burning power plants known as peakers, which are used during the peak summer period to handle higher electric loads. The state envisions most or all such plants being taken offline by 2040, unless they are powered by a new generation of renewable fuels that don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are a lot of sites that currently have fossil units that you could place storage on,” said LIPA chief Tom Falcone, after the utility’s recent release of a future power road map that includes extensive battery storage. “And so there are opportunities there and we are going to have to work through them.”

The facilities generally “don’t take up that large a footprint,” Falcone said. “If you didn’t know it was storage, most people would drive by and not see it.”

Long Island already has two battery storage units, both rated at 5 megawatts and costing some $110 million, located near LIPA substations in Montauk and East Hampton. The latter has been out of commission since a May 31 fire that was contained within the barnlike structure, but which will require a full replacement and a spill remediation overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Newsday has reported.

The East Hampton unit isn’t expected to be back in service until next summer, officials have said. The facility is only a few hundred feet from nearby homes and businesses. Southold and Southampton towns have enacted moratoriums on battery storage until more is learned about the batteries, and Gov. Kathy Hochul has created an interagency task force to examine the fires and hone standards for new systems.

“I think there’s a lot of education that has to happen,” Falcone said. “It’s [the] early days” of battery storage.

If a November session for Holtsville residents was the model for that education, residents say considerably more is needed.

Savion officials held the meeting online, and residents could ask questions by typing into a drop-down form. Five presenters appeared in voice only. “We are here today because we understand people have a lot of questions and curiosities about this project,” said Kaynor, of Savion.

Officials said while the planned 110-megawatt facility they are proposing will be unmanned, it will be remotely monitored 24/7 by teams of experts, and include safety systems and designs that will make it safe. Savion, a Kansas City-based developer of solar and battery storage systems owned by the Shell Group, is spending $160 million to develop the plant.

Nicolas Petrakis, a senior consultant at Energy Safety Response Group, which is working with Savion, said the latest “rigorous” safety standards, UL-listing requirements and testing has “significantly reduced the occurrences of failures that have been occurring in the industry.”

Companies are taking a “belts and suspenders approach to safety, where there’s a lot of different levels of safety incorporated into the technology,” he said.

One resident who listened in said she wasn’t impressed.

“They were very selective in their communication,” said Gabrielle Corso, a Holbrook resident who listened from her workplace. The session ended at 5 p.m. sharp. “I wish they had this after hours,” Corso said, adding that presenters “glazed over questions.”

Savion officials said the session was only the first as they move closer to building and other needed permits and construction by the first quarter of 2025.

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