The Southampton Town Board, at a special meeting last Thursday, voted unanimously to hold an Aug. 8 public hearing on the imposition of a six-month moratorium on applications for battery energy storage systems, following an outcry from residents near a proposed installation on North Road in Hampton Bays. Several board members expressed support for the proposed moratorium.
Those objections followed a May 31 fire at the 5-megawatt lithium-ion battery energy storage system at a Cove Hollow Road, East Hampton, substation. A portion of another battery storage facility upstate in Warwick, which is in Orange County, caught fire on June 27.
The board would use the moratorium to study its code to ensure it is sufficient to address public safety concerns, according to a July 17 statement from Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s office. “It will allow changes to the code that may force changes to the current project and could render it non-code compliant,” the statement reads, a reference to Rhynland Energy’s application before the planning board for the North Road battery energy storage system, or BESS.
That property is close to Montauk Highway, the Long Island Rail Road track, and the Shinnecock Canal. The planning board previously issued a negative declaration under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, meaning the project would not have a significant adverse environmental impact.
“The moratorium will prevent any processing by the planning board and will prevent the building inspector from issuing any permits to construct a BESS facility,” the statement continues. It would also prevent action by the zoning board of appeals.
Two residents spoke to thank the board for moving toward a moratorium, one citing the intense downpour of July 16 that she said flooded North Road.
An earlier version — a moratorium of three months that did not include pending applications — is insufficient, Mr. Schneiderman said, citing the “substantial number of people who are deeply concerned about fire, noise, air pollution, water contamination, catastrophic failure, and how that could affect the three exit routes, the train as well as Montauk Highway and Sunrise Highway. There are people who are not sleeping at night. There are people who are talking about selling their homes. Whether their concerns are fact-based or not, their concerns are very real and deserve time to get them the answers that they need to feel comfortable.”
A moratorium, he said, would allow the board to “put additional controls in place” with respect to where BESS facilities can be sited.
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni expressed support for a moratorium, as did Councilman John Bouvier, who commented that “people are so scared and so upset,” but advised the public to do their own research and warned against being misled.
Mr. Schneiderman stressed the importance of engaging an independent expert, “and that whoever is assisting us in analyzing our code is seen by all sides as independent, that does not have any skin in the game, isn’t working for some industry or whatever it might be, that the person or the group is professional, and just wants to make sure that we’re making decisions based on actual, factual information.”
“And let’s bring the community back into it,” Councilman Rick Martell later said, “and really see if that has taken care of their fears, because at this point, I think it’s going to be a really tough road, at this location, to talk them into this,” he said of the North Road proposal.
An independent analysis “is going to take some money,” Mr. Schneiderman said, “because I don’t think in-house we have the ability to answer all these questions.”
The Suffolk County Planning Commission would also have to approve a moratorium, the supervisor said. “It’s very important that we are serious about doing the analysis that this time is allowing for us. . . . To impose a moratorium is a serious thing, and it has to be met with a serious review.”
The state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 included a mandate for 3,000 megawatts of energy storage by 2030, which was subsequently increased by Gov. Kathy Hochul to at least 6,000 megawatts. It also sets a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Mr. Schiavoni acknowledged that the moratorium would likely be implemented, “but let’s face it,” he said, “the Peconic Bay scallops are gone. . . . Our climate is changing in slow motion right before our eyes. It’s happening over our lifetimes. This is us trying to do our part. We understand, we hear the community, and are going to continue working on this, because it’s the future.”