Powin battery energy units at a 20 MW/80 MWh facility in Santa Ana, California built by Hecate Grid. Photo: Powin website

A second public hearing is set on a proposed code to regulate the siting and operation of battery energy storage systems in Riverhead Town.

Battery energy storage systems store electricity for future use. They are considered an important component of renewable energy infrastructure, since the systems store energy to be distributed to the electrical grid at times of peak demand — which may not coincide with time of peak generation by wind and solar systems.

Battery energy storage systems can use several types of batteries. Lithium ion batteries are the most common batteries in use.

Utility-scale BESS systems need to be in proximity to electrical substations in order to feed the stored electricity back into the electrical grid. Small-scale battery energy storage systems are available to store electricity generated by solar panels installed at residential and commercial properties, for later use by those properties.

The public hearing on the proposed code is scheduled for the Dec. 20 Town Board meeting, which begins at 2 p.m.

A previous public hearing on the proposed code was held in August. The text of the code is identical to the text of the proposed code that was the subject of the Aug. 16 Town Board hearing, except that this time around, footnotes have been added to the zoning code’s tables of dimensional regulations that state BESS facilities are subject to the requirements set forth in the proposed code, rather than the requirements set forth in the tables for lot size, setbacks and the like in the various zoning districts where the BESS facilities would be allowed.

The town code currently does not address battery energy storage systems; it is not a permitted use.

The proposed code would allow utility-scale BESS facilities by special permit of the Town Board in several zoning districts in Riverhead: Industrial A, Industrial C, Planned Industrial Park, Agricultural Protection Zone and Residence A-80.

The proposed code requires that all utility scale BESS facilities on residentially zoned property must be within 1,000 feet of “an existing LIPA substation.”

The proposed code also spells out minimum lot sizes, maximum lot coverage, maximum structure height and minimum setbacks, as well as screening requirements.

At the Aug. 16 public hearing, some residents opposed the board adopting a code regulating these facilities outside of a comprehensive planning process.

“There is absolutely no planning study, no map, no information on how many acres of land are eligible for such development, why these particular zoning use districts which include the Agricultural Protection Zone and Residence RA-80, were chosen, no information on where the potential grid connection points are, how many high voltage switchyards could we potentially have and their visual impacts,” former Councilwoman former Planing Board Chairperson Barbara Blass said during the Aug. 16 public hearing.

The town’s comprehensive plan update, begun in January 2020 and stalled since at least June when the town supervisor announced the town would terminate its contract with the planning consultants hired to do the update because of unacceptable delays and lack of progress. The town has not yet signed a contract with new consultants, though the board agreed in early October to hire BFJ Planning to finish the update.

At the Town Board’s last meeting, residents objected to the Town Board scheduling another public hearing on the battery energy storage code at an afternoon meeting just before Christmas.

Two companies have filed site plan applications proposing to build utility scale BESS facilities in Riverhead. Both have been directed to apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for special exception uses, because BESS facilities are not currently a permitted use under the town code.

One proposal is located on Edwards Avenue in Calverton, in proximity to the LIPA substation there.

The other is located on a Mill Road site in Riverhead, just north of the railroad tracks. The Mill Road site is zoned Residence B-40, which is not among the zoning districts where BESS facilities would be allowed under the proposed code as written.

A representative of Hexagon Energy, the company seeking to build the Mill Road BESS facility, asked the Town Board at its Dec. 8 meeting to make certain changes to the proposed code that would allow the development of a utility-scale BESS facility on the site that is the subject of its application.

The board voted 4-1 to schedule the Dec. 20 public hearing, with Council Member Tim Hubbard dissenting.

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