Proposed battery storage facility faces scrutiny at pair of public hearings

Southold Town residents made their voices heard Monday night — and last Thursday — at Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals public hearings, held Monday last Thursday, respectively, concerning the battery energy storage facility proposed for Oregon Road by Key Capture Energy.

A letter signed by over 25 people calling themselves the Friends of Oregon Road was submitted Monday to both boards summarizing community concerns about the project. 

Accompanying the letter was a petition signed to date by 1,138 residents to date opposing the project.

The first concern addressed in the letter is the lack of codification. “The Town Board needs to carefully codify the requirements that must be met in our community before such a facility is approved,” it stated.

At least 10 people spoke at last Thursday’s ZBA meeting, a public hearing to address the application to grant KCE three variances, including special exception use as a public utility, as well as allowances on setbacks and tower height. The 27-acre property, some of which is active farmland, is zoned Light Industrial. 

Amos Meringer, chief of the Cutchogue Fire Department, started off the public comment. “We’re just getting up to speed on this and our concerns are many,” Mr. Meringer said. “There’s a lot that we don’t know yet, so before any decisions are made, I feel like a lot more conversation has to take place and we welcome meetings with [KCE].” 

Anne Murray, representing the North Fork Environmental Council, also raised concerns.

“Southold Town has not planned for nor has it developed any laws governing the placement of these types of facilities,” she said. “The NFEC supports battery storage facilities, but only if the town has a well-considered plan in place for them and the town owes it to the public to ensure that battery storage facilities have environmental standards and, more importantly, safety reviews.” 

ZBA chairperson Leslie Kanes Weisman reassured the public that their concerns are being heard.

“The bottom line is none of us are experts until we’re called upon to be challenged to really look at it and learn, which is what all of us are doing,” Ms. Weisman said. “We’re reading studies, we’re asking questions, we’re trying to look more deeply into what it means. Be reassured, we live here, too; we’re neighbors, we don’t want to see anything anywhere in our town that is going to put any of our first responders or our residents at any kind of risk.”

The facility is proposed along Oregon Road in Cutchogue. (Credit: Lilly Parnell)

The ZBA made no decisions last Thursday, instead announcing that it would hold a special meeting on the KCE application on Jan. 19. 

One significant objection raised by community members was that, as stated in the petition, volunteer firefighters would be unprepared for a “runaway thermal event that could burn for days, unleash toxic fumes and contaminate groundwater.” Another concern was potential harm to the natural beauty of the Oregon Road area, which many consider a quintessential North Fork scenic byway.

Monday night’s Planning Board hearing began with a presentation about the site plan application by KCE’s senior manager of development, Phil Denara; the firm’s attorney John Anzalone; and Joel Richardson, senior project engineer for H2M Architects. 

“This project will directly benefit the local North Fork electric grid and support the integration of renewable energy to be utilized around the clock for residents and businesses,” Mr. Denara said in an email. “We have proactively engaged with North Fork environmental leaders throughout this process and look forward to working closely with the community and relevant stakeholders, including the local fire department, as part of our commitment to transparency, safety, and environmental preservation.”

Resident Stephen Kiely brought up a letter of support that the Planning Board had sent to the ZBA on Nov. 28. He said he was “respectfully requesting that you consider withdrawing same, as it is premature. … I’m unsure how you can recommend support without being exposed to the project. … As you’ve referenced [this project] is in its very preliminary stages.” 

In response, Planning Board chair Don Wilcenski said, “I just want to bring up the fact that this has morphed into a lot bigger than we even imagined, just so everybody understands that. This is something that we haven’t faced in this town, so we’re all learning as we go along and, quite frankly, us sending that letter to the ZBA in support of this, we’re going to revisit that.

“We as the Planning Board and planning staff, we’re going to do a lot more work and answer all your questions and our concerns,” Mr. Wilcenski said. The Planning Board adjourned Monday night without any decision.

KCE, an Albany-based energy company, applied in late July to build a 60-megawatt lithium-ion battery energy storage system facility on a 27-acre parcel along Oregon Road. The facility would comprise 272 energy storage container units, 34 power conversion system units and a 1,000-square-foot interconnection building.

In addition, KCE has applied to subdivide the parcel so that 2.54 acres would belong to Long Island Power Authority with a 392-square-foot substation building, three 55-foot lightning masts in the project substation and 13 utility poles connecting to County Road 48. KCE originally proposed an easement agreement with the town allowing access to an adjacent parcel for those overhead transmission lines, but on Monday might presented an amended project design that puts all overhead transmission lines underground. 

KCE’s landscape plan calls for 28 deciduous plantings, 71 evergreen trees, 196 shrubs and seeding, which will border a 12-foot-high wall intended as a sound and visual barrier. The overall project would take up 11 acres of land.

These battery systems are tied to the grid, store extra energy produced during times of low demand and then return that energy to the grid during peak demand. The Cutchogue facility would operate unmanned 24/7. Maintenance would include daily and weekly remote inspections as well as regular on-site inspections.