A battery storage facility  in East Hampton pictured a month...

A battery storage facility  in East Hampton pictured a month after a fire broke out on May 31. Credit: James Carbone

As more Long Island towns ponder the prospect of a moratorium on construction of large-scale battery storage projects, Brookhaven Town is welcoming the facilities as part of its larger embrace of offshore wind.

Islip Town later this month plans to vote on the prospect of a battery moratorium, while Oyster Bay Town has initiated a public comment period on the matter. If they ultimately enact moratoriums on the facilities, they would join Southampton, Southold and Huntington Towns, which already have done so. Babylon Town is expected to vote on one soon. An Islip Town spokeswoman said fires at storage facilities last year “convinced” the town to consider a moratorium.

To date, only two such facilities are on Long Island — one in Montauk and another in East Hampton, which experienced a fire last year. But as Newsday has reported, dozens are proposed, from the East End to Glen Head and Island Park, with many at or near Long Island Power Authority power stations.

Brookhaven Town’s acceptance of properly sited battery storage facilities was put into focus this week when New York State announced it again had awarded a contract for Sunrise Wind, a 924-megawatt project that will bring its power to Long Island via a 17½-mile cable through a main artery in Brookhaven Town to a Holtsville substation.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Brookhaven Town is welcoming large-scale battery storage projects and facilities as part of its larger embrace of offshore wind.
  • Other municipalities are pushing back: Islip Town later this month plans to vote on a battery moratorium; Oyster Bay Town has initiated a public comment period on the matter.
  • Southampton, Southold and Huntington towns already have enacted moratoriums on battery facilities.

Construction of the cable infrastructure already had begun, and Brookhaven Town has been an early proponent of the project, one that could bring more than $130 million into town coffers over 25 years, in addition to jobs, facilities and other local benefits.

“You can’t support wind without supporting batteries,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico said in an interview last month. “You’re going to need battery storage.”

The Sunrise Wind farm will bring in enough energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes when its turbines are spinning off the coast of Massachusetts/Rhode Island by 2026. Most of the energy will be made during the windier winter months, when power use traditionally goes down.

LIPA and the state are working to encourage more winter electricity use, through electric heat pumps to replace oil- and natural gas-based systems as well as through electric cars. Shifting ratepayers to greater winter peaks will mean greater electricity use when more is available from wind turbines.

Battery storage critical piece

Storage of electricity also will play a critical role, as the state works to wind down use of smaller so-called peaking power plants located throughout Long Island and the state. Peakers and other fossil-fuel plants must be retired by 2040, unless they can be powered by “green” fuel such as hydrogen.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed 6,000 megawatts of battery storage across the state by 2030, and the New York Power Authority issued a bid request for a battery facility at its Brentwood plant.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is administering battery programs, in a statement said it is “aware that some communities are concerned in light of recent fires and are enacting local moratoriums for new energy storage facilities.” But the agency said an interagency task force and pending new safety standards will address the concerns. Batteries, the state said, “will continue to play a critical role” in the state’s green energy plan.

LIPA said it already has plans for three battery facilities from a 2021 bid request — in Islip, Shoreham and West Babylon. “Like any land-use development,” LIPA added in a statement, “the local community needs to be reasonably satisfied that the facilities are safe.” Two of those sites are in locations that currently host a fossil-fuel plant that are expected to be retired.

“Going forward, LIPA plans to continuously review storage needs on Long Island as more fossil units retire and offshore wind is added to the grid,” LIPA said, noting that it will work with state “storage procurement team” to prioritize more sites that offer “grid benefits and help to replace capacity lost to local fossil retirements.”

The fire at the East Hampton storage facility last year has taken it out of commission since May 31, as owners NextEra and National Grid replace the 5-megawatt unit battery cells. The job could take until July. Concerns about that fire and two others upstate last year have fueled opposition. 

Brookhaven Town has fielded applications for battery storage units, including one for a 110-megawatt facility that will be 20 times larger than the East Hampton unit. Residents have been up in arms about it, and held a protest at Brookhaven Town headquarters last year.

Brookhaven has instituted a special zoning code for the battery facilities, and has been reviewing applications on a case-by-case basis, Panico said. The town would not provide Newsday with a list of pending or approved projects.

“We’re aware that there are many battery developers looking to land projects, not only in Brookhaven but throughout Long Island,” Panico said. “We have a local approach when it comes to battery storage, and each council member is very engaged … Not all locations are appropriate.”

Others, he said, “lend themselves to be more appropriate, and those are the ones you will see a public hearing on.”

Fran Lunati, who is leading a group in opposition to batteries located in residential areas and around schools, said it’s all about location.

“We’re fine with green energy, but they’re just putting these plants too close to homes and schools, and they don’t have evacuation plans,” said Lunati, who lives in Holbrook, less than a mile from a proposed Holtsville site. Her group plans to bring a petition with more than 2,700 signatures to Islip Town in support of the moratorium. She noted her groups support a lawsuit recently filed by Sachem Central School District to stop the Holtsville battery facility and urged Panico to consider a moratorium.

“Change your way of thinking and think about the safety of the people in your community,” she said. “We wouldn’t know how to even start evacuating those schools.”

Growing opposition to battery facilities

Panico said the town will approve only industrially zoned property for batteries, and argued the town won’t become saturated with batteries. “I don’t think there’s any fear of that,” he said. “A moratorium may sound good. And it sounds like a pause, but the fact of the matter is, these applications take so long to get approved and get permitted that I would call into question the efficacy of what a 30- or 60- or 90-day pause really means because if the application is coming before a town board, that application needs a change of zone. That’s a legislative act in and of itself. It’s not an as-of-right application.”

Panico stressed that he wasn’t calling into question the actions of other towns that are implementing moratoriums. “People do what’s appropriate for their towns,” he said.

But he said he wished New York State would do more to educate residents about batteries and “explain what’s required to meet these goals. At the local level, we receive mandates, but we often are left on our own,” he said.

Growing opposition to batteries also leaves those officials who profess to support green energy in a state of contradiction.

“The same people who claim to be for green energy and renewables, I would say, also seem to talk a big game when it comes to affordable housing. But it’s this town and other similarly situated towns that are getting it done,” said Panico, who like all but one of the town’s board members is a Republican. “It paints a picture of what’s ultimately going on here on Long Island, and some of the hypocrisy that has not been called out enough."

In the end, support of batteries means not only addressing environmental issues, but could help local districts with funding, Panico suggested. 

Battery facilities and their tax payments “certainly could be very important to school districts, school taxes, possibly even our fire departments and emergency service providers,” he said, stressing that “each individual application [must be] looked at and treated individually” with an “understanding of what the needs are in the community.” 

With Brianne Ledda and Joseph Ostapiuk

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