Rendering of a 72-megawatt battery energy storage system being built by Powin at a utility-scale solar installation in Tranquility, California Powin website

Gov. Kathy Hochul today released draft recommendations for ensuring the safety of battery energy storage systems. The recommendations were developed by the Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group Hochul established last summer after fires at battery energy storage facilities in New York, including on Long Island.

A  public comment period on the draft recommendations is open through March 5, 2024 at 3 p.m.

The recommendations are intended to “provide an overview of potential ways to improve the Fire Code based on WG [working group] discussions and Fire Code review, and to provide a list of recommendations for consideration for future code installments and other state requirements to address safety concerns,” according to the draft document.

The recommendations apply only to lithium-ion battery energy storage systems that exceed the 600 kilowatt-hour (kWh) Maximum Allowable Quantity (MAQ) threshold, as established in the 2020 state fire code.

Some of the recommendations suggest fire code updates, others make suggestions for fire code additions, and others are described as “additional considerations” that could help address potential issues with BESS fire safety “through other regulatory mechanisms.”

The recommendations include requiring industry-funded peer review for all projects, so that experts can assist local agencies having permitting jurisdiction over the facilities with reviewing BESS applications and ensuring they comply with fire safety code requirements. 

They also include changes to BESS design requirements, and a requirement that qualified personnel or owner representatives are available for dispatch to the scene of a BESS fire and can arrive on scene within four hours to assist local first responders. 

The recommendations suggest adding to the fire code requirements for site-specific emergency response plans and annual site-specific training for local first responders.

Also, the draft includes a requirement for a central station service alarm system for all BESS facilities, to ensure prompt notification to local fire departments.

“The battery energy storage industry is enabling communities across New York to transition to a clean energy future, and it is critical that we have the comprehensive safety standards in place,” Hochul said in a press release today. “Adopting the Working Group’s recommendations will ensure New York’s clean energy transition is done safely and responsibly.”

Riverhead Town last April  adopted a code to regulate the location and construction of BESS facilities in Riverhead Town. The new code allows utility-scale battery energy storage systems by special permit in five zoning districts: Industrial A, Industrial C, Planned Industrial Park, Agricultural Protection, and Residence A-80 zoning use districts.

The Town Board considered adopting a three-month moratorium on grid-scale BESS systems pending the recommendations of the state working group, but in early January, Supervisor Tim Hubbard said the moratorium is not necessary because the recommendations were imminent. There has been interest in siting BESS facilities in a few locations in Riverhead; to date, the town has had two applications filed, Hubbard said last month.

The working group intends to submit the recommendations to the Code Council for consideration in the next code installment, the document states.

Comments from interested stakeholders are sought on the proposed recommendations, for incorporation into the final submission to the Code Council. 

“While the most critical issues identified by the [working group] could be addressed by better enforcement and adherence to the existing code, the

recommendations in this memo have been identified as ways to further improve the regulatory framework for BESS in New York,” the document states.

See more information on the working group here

Comments on BESS code recommendations must be made on the response form available for download here BESS Code Recommendations Respondent Form [PDF] and emailed to  to BESScodeupdates@nyserda.ny.gov with the subject line ‘Response: BESS Code Recommendations Request.’ 

Questions regarding this request for public comment should be directed in writing to BESScodeupdates@nyserda.ny.gov. NYSERDA, the Working Group, or agents thereof may reach out to respondents to seek clarification on submitted comment. For more information see the Request for Public Comment [PDF]

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.