Wheatfield shines light on battery storage sites

Wendel engineer Drew Reilly explains the three-tiered system the town has come up with for regulating battery storage systems during a public hearing Monday. (Mia Summerson photo)

WHEATFIELD – As the push for green energy grows amid efforts to fight climate change, Wheatfield is working on a revision to its zoning code to regulate how and where battery storage systems are allowed to be installed.

During a brief public hearing ahead of the town board’s Monday meeting, Drew Reilly of Wendel explained the three different classifications of battery storage system that the town plans to regulate, and where each sort of system will be permitted. Reilly said that tier one and two systems – which are the smaller systems – would be considered accessory structures and require only a building permit.

“(Tier one and tier two) battery energy storage is going to be used for back-up power,” Reilly explained. “So in your house, in your business, in your industry, you may need to have back-up power, and a battery energy storage system would provide that instead of a generator. You can feed that with solar panels, you can feed it with just buying energy off the grid and storing it for when you need back-up power.”

On the other hand, tier three systems – those used to store electricity for the purpose of selling it back into the grid – would require site plan approval, Reilly said. These would only be permitted in the town’s industrial zones, which are located mostly on the town’s west side.

Battery storage systems allow those who generate their own electricity to store that power rather than using it right away. Councilor Randy Retzlaff, who was on the town committee that looked into battery storage systems, said a tier one system could be placed in a residential garage and used to store up to three days worth of power, something that could have come in handy during events like the wind storm earlier this month that caused widespread power outages.

Retzlaff said the idea of regulating battery storage systems was brought forth preemptively due to the growing use of commercial and private solar panels in the town, and not due to any issues the town had encountered with such technology. He said while people have used solar power in Wheatfield for a while, commercial solar arrays have only started to pop up in town over the last few years, and town officials wanted to be prepared for when requests start to come in for battery storage facilities.

“We just wanted to get some rules in order before it happened,” Retzlaff said after Monday’s hearing. “That was our main thing.”

Just one member of the public commented during the hearing: Sanborn Fire Chief Rob Hoover. His concerns centered around the fire risks associated with battery storage systems and whether local fire personnel were included during the committee process.

He said that he’s aware of several fires related to similar facilities breaking out over the last month in the New York City area. He worried that the battery storage systems would strain area fire departments.

“I think that’s very important,” he said. “Because it just puts more on the plate.”

Reilly noted that the draft law includes a stipulation that all systems have to be referred to the fire department for review, and that fire departments need to be trained on the systems. He also said that a safety plan must be provided, which includes fire safety.

He also said that the New York state fire safety code includes regulations for battery storage systems, and that the town’s requirements actually go further than what is included in state law.

“The fire department will be actively involved in these facilities and citing of these facilities,” Reilly said.

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