A sign along Morris Avenue in Holtsville on Dec. 13, 2023...

A sign along Morris Avenue in Holtsville on Dec. 13, 2023 calls for stopping the construction of a battery storage facility proposed for the former site of the Lawlor Stone Center. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The Sachem Central School District has filed suit against the developer of a proposed battery storage plant in Holtsville and the state Public Service Commission, charging the agency approved a certificate for the plant despite findings that the facilities “pose significant dangers.”

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 7 in State Supreme Court in Albany, takes issue with the state’s approval in October of a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the 110-megawatt battery plant on Morris Avenue in Holtsville, despite a letter from the district expressing safety concerns about the project “and its proximity to the school district's physical plant and schools.”

The district’s suit seeks a ruling declaring that the approval was “arbitrary and capricious,” lacked “any rational basis” and “exceeded the [PSC's] statutory authority” under the law. It wants the approval to be declared null and void and a permanent injunction issued to bar the plant from being built.

PSC spokesman James Denn said the agency doesn’t comment on litigation. Developer Savion didn’t respond to requests seeking comment. The suit also names the PSC’s administrative arm, the Department of Public Service.

The proposed Holtsville facility is to be one of the first built on Long Island since a fire at an East Hampton battery plant in May that burned for some 30 hours, requiring its complete replacement, Newsday has reported.

New York State and LIPA envision potentially dozens of battery storage plants across the state and Long Island as part of a decarbonization of the electric grid, which will see batteries replacing aging fossil-fuel-powered plants for peak energy needs and to store energy from wind and solar arrays.

But some residents and municipalities are working to slow down the process. Southold, Southampton and Huntington towns have moratoriums in place to suspend battery storage development and other municipalities, including Babylon Town, are considering them. Brookhaven Town has embraced the battery storage facilities.

The Sachem lawsuit notes that the proposed Holtsville plant would be even larger than plants that have experienced fires, including one in upstate Chaumont that resulted in a shelter-in-place order for residents located within a mile of that facility. Newsday has reported a one-mile evacuation zone was planned for a battery storage fire in East Hampton but never enacted.

The proposed $160 million Holtsville plant, which would be located on six acres adjacent to the Long Island Expressway, is about 20 times larger than the East Hampton plant, and would be would be within one mile of four Sachem schools. Six other district schools would be within two miles of the plant, and three within three miles.

“Given the magnitude of the project and its siting, the project clearly poses significant safety risks to the school district,” the suit states.

The suit also notes that the battery facility is 2,252 feet from Northville Industries’ petroleum storage and distribution facility, with 15 aboveground tanks and a capacity of 15.9 million gallons. It’s also about 2,000 feet from Pride Chemical Solutions, “one of the nation’s largest chemical distributors,” and in “proximity to homes, a public library, youth sports facilities,” restaurants, a theater and hotels. It’s also near a state-owned natural-gas fired power plant and a National Grid liquid natural gas facility.

The suit takes note of the East Hampton fire, as well one in Warwick on June 27 that “actively burned for two days and caused heavy smoke conditions resulting in the initial evacuation of, and closure of the local school district’s elementary, middle and high schools” for a week.

The suit charges the 2023 battery-plant fires “created fire hazards and other dangerous conditions for the residents of the surrounding communities and in part, impacted and impeded the operation of the surrounding school districts.”

While noting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s creation of an interagency working group on the fires to develop new safety standards, the suit charges that neither Savion nor the state agencies contacted the school prior to the approval “to discuss and plan for emergency management of the project and/or emergency preparedness for any disaster that could befall the project site."

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