Montauk Grid Battery Facility Approved

Facility between pond and bay will store power for use during peak hours
NextEra Energy’s Montauk Energy Storage Center will be located on a triangular parcel between the Long Island Rail Road tracks and North Shore Road. T.E. McMorrow

Clearing has begun for an energy-storage facility on a site between Fort Pond and Fort Pond Bay in Montauk after a sharply divided East Hampton Town Planning Board voted to approve the project on March 14. The vote was 4-3. The board had held off on its final discussion and vote on the project since early January, to allow its newest member, Ed Krug, to “get up to speed” on the proposal, as the board’s chairman put it. Mr. Krug voted to approve the project.

In order for NextEra Energy to move forward with its proposal, named the Montauk Energy Storage Center, the company needed to obtain site plan approval from the board, as well as a special permit to operate at the location as a public utility. Both were granted on March 14. NextEra Energy had already obtained the needed variances from the town’s zoning board of appeals. 

The property in question, a triangular parcel less than a half-acre in size, is bordered to the north by the Long Island Rail Road tracks and to the west by North Shore Road, which connects Second House Road to Navy Road on the other side of the railroad tracks.

It is owned by Peter Joyce, who is leasing it to NextEra Energy. A 90-by-46-foot battery-storage building, along with accessory structures, will be built on the site. A public hearing on the proposal was held on Aug. 9. The area is zoned for commercial-industrial use.

The planning board approved a similar site last year for the Cove Hollow area of East Hampton, near Dune Alpin Farm and adjacent to the L.I.R.R. tracks. Ross D. Groffman, the head of NextEra Energy, said then that he hoped the site would be operational this summer.

  It does not appear that NextEnergy Era is wasting any time on the Montauk site, either: A front loader was observed moving earth there Tuesday.

The facilities work by drawing power from the grid during off-peak hours, storing it in racks of lithium-ion batteries, then releasing the electricity for use at peak hours, when demand is highest. 

Proximity to a Long Island Power Authority substation was critical to the choice of sites for both energy-storage facilities. There already is an adjacent substation on Cove Hollow Road, in the Dune Alpin area. In Montauk, there is a substation at the southern edge of Fort Pond, on Industrial Road; it is to be moved to a property adjacent to and just to the east of the storage unit. 

Opponents of the Montauk facility are numerous, and they have expressed their objections to the project both at the public hearing in August and in letters to the board. Noise was one concern, but even more urgent, in their eyes, was the question of what would happen in the event of a catastrophic flood. 

During the August hearing, Rameshwar Das, an author of the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and a member of the town’s coastal assessment and resiliency planning committee, had told the board that in the past the area where the storage facility is to be build had been impacted by hurricanes. He warned that, in the future, a breach could come not from the ocean side, “but from the backside, through Fort Pond Bay.”

The site is, itself, not in a major flood zone as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, it is surrounded by major FEMA flood zones, and is only about 100 yards in either direction from Fort Pond and Fort Pond Bay.

In response to the flooding worries raised last summer, NextEra Energy agreed to raise the facility 10 feet above sea level. It also agreed to add more sound buffering to the project.

NextEra’s site plan was received by the planning board in late 2016, and board members, with the exception of Mr. Krug, had been mulling it over for more than a year. 

A week before the March 14 vote, the board had a discussion about it, to determine how the final vote might pan out and, thus, establish the wording of the Planning Department’s final determination. That discussion, on March 7, began with comments from Nancy Keeshan, the board’s vice-chairwoman, who was enthusiastic about voting‚ “yes.”

  “I have been a supporter of this from the beginning,” Ms. Keeshan said. 

Mr. Krug, who was named to the board on Jan. 2 as a replacement for Diana Weir, spoke next on March 7. His vote would be key, as two other board members, Kathleen Cunningham and Patti Leber, along with Mr. Potter, had previously expressed their disapproval and were potential “no” votes. 

“This is a hard one,” Mr. Krug said, “but I have to say I am generally supportive.” He continued, “It is a tricky situation. There are no great locations in Montauk for such a thing.” However, he said, the facility was desperately needed. “Some of the flooding concerns some people have I don’t share, exactly.”

Ms. Cunningham was not so sanguine. “I just don’t like the location,” she said. “The applicant has met every request we have made, but I am just not sure this is the right spot.” 

She told the board she was on the fence. “You will have to vote next week,” Mr. Potter reminded her. “I will,” she responded. 

Ian Calder-Piedmonte said that the company’s responses to the board’s various points of unease had tipped his vote toward “yes.”

“At the end of the day, we have expressed a lot of concerns. The community at large did. And I think they have been met,” Mr. Calder-Piedmonte said. “Like probably every other board member, if I were to design the town and pick a spot, this wouldn’t be it.” However, he concluded, the company had met the requests of the board, and the project should be approved. 

Ms. Leber called the site “an impractical location on an unsuitable piece of property. It is surrounded by flood zones.” 

“Our hamlet studies are discussing the rise of sea level, and the ability of people in Montauk to move away from the water,” Ms. Leber said. And, because the facility is to be raised off the ground, she warned, it would “loom over” the area. 

“We should do this,” Randall Parsons said. “Montauk needs a better energy facility.” He said that this was one of the few areas in Montauk zoned for industrial use.

Mr. Potter wrapped up March 7’s pre-vote discussion by saying he had supported the approval of the facility in East Hampton, but that the Montauk proposal was another matter. “This is being raised to 10 feet above sea level, but it is between Fort Pond and the bay. We have not really been let in on the discussion of moving the substation, which is now almost in Fort Pond. It is a good thing to move it, but I feel that it is a mistake to bring it next door to this project, and I think the two projects are linked.” 

In the end, despite Mr. Potter’s opposition, it was clear that there were at least four votes to approve, and Mr. Potter instructed the Planning Department to word its determination accordingly.

In the end, on March 14, Ms. Cunningham joined Ms. Leber and Mr. Potter in voting no.