Strong support for battery storage moratorium at Town Board hearing Tuesday

Southold Town Board’s public hearing on a proposed 12-month moratorium on battery energy storage system facilities was closed without a decision Tuesday night after multiple speakers expressed strong support for the initiative. The public will have 30 days to submit written comment to the Suffolk County Planning Commission and the Southold Town Planning Board. 

Democratic candidate for Town Board Gwynn Schroeder started the public comment session in support of the moratorium. Over a dozen residents spoke at the hearing, which ran for over two hours, all of whom expressed support for the moratorium. Nobody spoke against it.

The idea of a pause on BESS facilities was introduced in early January by Town Supervisor Scott Russell. The initiative was announced just hours before a public forum hosted by the Cutchogue Civic Association to discuss Key Capture Energy’s proposed 60-megawatt lithium-ion BESS facility on a 27-acre parcel along Oregon Road in Cutchogue. Southold Town currently does not have zoning guidelines for these facilities.

Leslie Kanes Weisman, chairperson of the Zoning Board of Appeals, addressed the Town Board on Tuesday night and read the organizations official letter of support for the moratorium into the record. (Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

That facility would consist of 272 energy storage container units, 34 power conversion system units and a 1,000-square-foot interconnection building that would cover 11 of the 27 acres.

The moratorium is intended to give the board time to “undertake a thorough examination of these systems to identify any possible threats to public health, safety and welfare,” according to the legal notice of Tuesday night’s public hearing.

Southold Town is relying on guidance issued by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to create code for battery storage within the town. NYSERDA’s first recommendation is the creation of a task force responsible for developing an action plan for the integration of BESS facilities into town code. The action plan would be adopted as an addendum to the town’s comprehensive plan.

“The task force, whether the moratorium is adopted or not, is going to help the town evaluate the technology, the facilities, and … develop sound code that would help regulate these facilities,” Mr. Russell said Tuesday night. The board encouraged residents to apply to the task force, particularly those with relevant experience.

Before the public hearing started, Town Board member Greg Doroski announced that the board had received 15 public letters in support of the moratorium as well as one from the Zoning Board of Appeals. ZBA chair Leslie Kanes Weisman read that letter into the record at the hearing. 

“We need new code for these BESS facilities and the ZBA believes that the Town Board as our properly elected legislators should now proactively exercise its authority and responsibility to legislate with the best interest of the town and the welfare of its residents in mind,” Ms. Weisman said. “The ZBA implores [the Town Board] to give the zoning and planning boards the legal tools we need to make informed and environmentally responsible decisions about BESS facilities … please give yourself the time to do the homework, talk to the experts, analyze the risks and how to mitigate them and look at the big picture, the ZBA urges all of you to vote in favor of this proposed moratorium.”

Phil Denara, Key Capture Energy’s senior manager of development, was also in attendance. He did not argue for or against the moratorium but stated that the company will submit various technical reports in support of their application. Those reports include a hazard and mitigation analysis and draft emergency response plan which KCE will share with the fire department.

“I do want to note that those documents will be submitted on the record and regardless I think that they should be referenced and read as part of this review process because I do think that they will be helpful,” he said.

KCE’s proposal generated public concern about its location, potential environmental risks and safety issues — including local fire departments’ ability to respond to and contend with any emergencies on site. 

A letter of opposition signed by over 25 members of a group named “Friends of Oregon Road,” was submitted to Planning Board and ZBA in early December along with a petition against the project with 1,331 signatures. Another  petition was started by members of that same group in support of the battery energy storage system moratorium, which includes more than 1,100 signatures to date.