A 5-megawatt battery storage unit, located at a substation in...

A 5-megawatt battery storage unit, located at a substation in East Hampton on Aug. 17, 2018. Credit: Veronique Louis

Two weeks after the state Public Service Commission greenlighted a 6-acre battery storage facility in Holtsville, residents concerned about the project’s potential safety impacts are holding two meetings at local firehouses to air their grievances.

The PSC on Oct. 12 gave formal approval to the $110 million project, which includes up to 124 lithium-ion batteries on 6 acres at Morris Avenue and Expressway Drive South in Holtsville, just west of a movie theater. In announcing the approval, PSC chairman Rory Christian said the project “advances New York State’s greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energy goals.”

But residents say recent fires at battery storage units suggested the new green-energy facilities are an untested risk and should await a state task force's findings on battery facilities after fires over the past year. 

“We’re just trading fossil fuels for something that may be more dangerous,” said Diane Marascia of Holtsville. “Should we really be pushing these [battery facilities] through before we really understand and have the safety protocols?”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Residents concerned about a proposed battery storage facility being built in Holtsville are holding two meetings to air their grievances.
  • The PSC on Oct. 12 gave formal approval to the $110 million project, which includes up to 124 lithium-ion batteries on 6 acres in Holtsville.
  • Residents are worried about possible fires from the facility and want the project to be delayed until after a state report on such fires is issued.  

One of two LIPA-contracted battery storage units experienced a fire in East Hampton earlier this year that took it out of commission for the summer. 

The PSC said the decision to approve the new Holtsville plant “directly addresses rising concerns about fires at battery storage facilities” because it “includes a required submission of an emergency operations plan, a fire control and suppression plan” and “notification and reporting requirements related to fires and other catastrophic events.” 

But residents say the facility does not belong in a residential neighborhood and that state approval came with little notice to surrounding residents, businesses and even local fire houses that would be required to put out any fire at the facility. A petition that calls for stopping the permit for the facility already has more than 1,100 signatures. So far this year, three fires have been reported at battery storage units across the state, including the East Hampton facility. Residents say approval in Holtsville took place under the radar.

“Nobody knows about this,” said Fran Lunati, who is leading the meetings at the Holtsville and Holbrook fire houses Wednesday and Thursday night. “The concern is that Gov. Kathy Hochul has not looked into this long enough. Why are they still having fires? That’s what we’re worried about.” The meetings are at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Holbrook Fire House on Terry Boulevard off Broadway; and 7 p.m. Thursday at the Holtsville Fire House on Waverly Avenue. 

Lunati, who lives less than a mile from the proposed plant, noted the facility is surrounded by energy infrastructure, a New York Power Authority power plant, Northville fuel tanks, a LIPA substation and a pending cable from an offshore wind farm. “Our homes are right here,” she said.

Lunati said her group has asked for Brookhaven to put a moratorium on battery storage units, similar to one already in place in Southold and Southampton towns, but one Brookhaven Town officials said is not possible. The Brookhaven Town planning board voted 6-0 to approve the project’s site plan in January, but no construction plans have yet been approved.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, who is running for Suffolk County executive, didn’t respond to Newsday questions about the facility.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley said the proposed location is zoned industrial so the town can’t block it on zoning grounds, and noted the Jan. 23 Planning Board public hearing was sparsely attended. In any case, he said, the town will stress safety at the facility. “We always look at safety first,” Foley said.

“This type of energy is going to be the way of the future, but we have to make sure it’s safe,” he said.

Currently the site is a depot yard for gas tanker trucks.

Nearly all the more than 125 comments on a PSC website about the project express opposition to the project, with the exception of labor unions, which support it for its more than 200 construction jobs. Once finished, the battery will be "unmanned," the company's plan states.

The facility, by developer Savion energy company, may not be the only battery storage facility in the area. LIPA is reviewing a separate, even larger proposal, for two batteries totaling up to 150 megawatts at the same substation.

Savion spokeswoman Kelly Cooper, in an email Tuesday night, said, “We recognize the community has questions, and we are currently in the early stages of prepping for another public information session to happen before the end of the year. ”

LIPA also plans another 50 megawatts at its Shoreham substation, 79 megawatts at the Kings Highway substation in Hauppauge and 50 megawatts at the West Babylon substation.

The PSC in approving the Holtsville plant noted the recent fires at “smaller battery storage facilities in Jefferson, Orange, and Suffolk counties,” saying they “highlighted the need to adequately address fire safety, including measures to both prevent and respond to battery storage fires.

Even while approving the Holtsville plant, Hochul’s administration earlier this year created an Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group that will “identify best practices, address potential risks to public safety, and ensure energy storage sites across New York are safe and effective,” the PSC said. The group is currently “assessing the cause of the fires and is undertaking a comprehensive review of fire safety standards. When the process is complete, the findings and resulting recommendations will offer guidance for potential Sstate code updates and other protective measures.

Lunati said approval of the Holtsville site should wait until the group has come up with a full plan, including whether such facilities should be located in residential neighborhoods.

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