United Riverhead Terminal’s bid to install a fuel cell power plant on a portion of its property in Northville has been rejected by the Town of Riverhead — at least for now.
The company, which operates a heating oil storage and distribution facility on a 286-acre waterfront site is looking to build a 1.4 megawatt fuel cell plant there. The plant would produce electricity for the PSEG-LI grid, with excess heat it generates to be used by URT to augment its tank heating system, according to an application filed with Town of Riverhead in January.
Since the operation is a pre-existing, nonconforming use under the site’s current residential zoning — some of the 20 oil storage tanks date back to the 1950s, before Riverhead Town adopted its first zoning code — any expansion requires a special permit of the town board.
Late last month, the Riverhead building department denied the special permit application. The parcel of land on which the fuel cell plant was proposed “does not have any meaningful petroleum storage and distribution facilities located on it,” Riverhead chief building inspector Brad Hammond wrote in a Feb. 23 letter to URT’s consultant Victor Prusinowski. Hammond quoted the town zoning code requirement that any expansion of a nonconforming use must be located on the same lot as the nonconforming use.
Prusinowski said today the the rejection was based on a technicality and the company will resubmit its application, proposing instead to construct the fuel cell on a portion of the site where it has existing facilities.
“We should be ready to resubmit in a few days,” he said.
Fuel cell technology is hailed as environmentally friendly. Unlike fossil-fuel power sources, fuel cell by-products are heat and water. Fuel cells generate electricity by chemical reactions. A fuel cell converts the chemicals hydrogen and oxygen into water, and in the process produces electricity.
The Northville Beach Civic Association has stated its opposition to the fuel cell proposal. The organization staunchly opposes any expansion of the nonconforming use at URT’s Northville facilities, which were built on land subsequently zoned residential and which are surrounded by residential and agricultural uses.
While fuel cell technology is considered environmentally friendly, there are potential environmental concerns about the operation of the proposed fuel cell plant, according to Northville Beach Civic Association president Linda Prizer. She cites the facility’s need to draw nearly 6,500 gallons of water per day from the aquifer, concerns over recharging to the aquifer the facility’s waste water, which she said may contain contaminants and the handling and disposal of solid waste produced by the facility. Prizer also expressed concerns about the impacts of high voltage lines to carry electricity from the fuel cell plant to the nearest power substation.
“This is but the tip of the iceberg,” Prizer said.
If URT resubmits its application on a parcel already in use, the town board will begin review pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. If the board determines the application does not require the preparation of an environmental impact statement, it will schedule a public hearing on the special permit application, which is required before the town board can act.
In 2014, URT sought to convert two tanks to gasoline storage and build two ethanol storage tanks. The State DEC issued the necessary permits, but a special permit from the town was needed for the construction of the ethanol tanks, which was an expansion of the pre-existing nonconforming use. The community turned out in force to oppose the proposal at public hearings in October and December and March 2015. In April, URT withdrew the application after town board members publicly stated they were not prepared to support it.