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Civic groups oppose plan for Northville fuel cell installation

10/11/2016 6:00 AM |

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Two local civic organizations have opposed a proposal to install a fuel cell on property in Northville owned by United Riverhead Terminal.

The Northville Beach Civic Association and the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition both say their opposition has less to do with fuel cell technology per se than with allowing a new use at the 286-acre property. The existing oil terminal was built in 1955 on land that is currently zoned for two-acre residential properties. Although the terminal doesn’t conform, it is permitted because it pre-dates that zoning.

Fuel Cell Energy of Danbury, Conn., is proposing installation of a 1.4 megawatt combined heat and power fuel cell plant that will deliver electricity to the PSEG-Long Island grid and will deliver exhaust heat to the facility, according to Geoff Slevin, the company’s director of business development. Mr. Slevin spoke during a recent presentation to the Northville Beach Civic Association.

Fuel Cell Energy proposes to lease land from URT on the south side of Sound Shore Road just across from the entrance to its main office.

The electricity created by the fuel cells, which would be powered by natural gas coming from a National Grid pipeline on Sound Shore Road, which will be fed into PSEG-LI’s Tuthills Lane substation, where the electricity will be produced, according to the presentation.

Only one acre of land would be needed for the fuel cell installation, which FCE says would create the same amount of energy as a 375-acre solar panel installation.

FCE says there would be “virtually zero criteria air pollutions” and a 4,000-ton-per year reduction in so-called greenhouse gas emissions compared to standard grid electricity.

To date, no formal presentation has been submitted to Riverhead Town Hall, according to Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator.

The civic association decided to object to the proposal “after discussion and consideration of all the factors,” president Linda Prizer wrote in a letter to Mr. Slevin.

“While we recognize the importance of moving toward more environmentally friendly sources of power, there are serious concerns which necessitate our opposition,” Ms. Prizer wrote. “First and foremost is our opposition to the expansion of the non-conforming use at the URT property.”

The civic association’s goal is to “strive to reduce, not expand, the non-conforming use at the URT.”

Phil Barbato, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said his organization also opposes the fuel cell project.

“We think it’s like a first phase and, if it works out, we think it might be like a foot in the door,” he said. The project would need a special permit from the Town Board or variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, he said.

In 2015, Northville residents came out against URT’s proposal to convert two storage tanks on the property from heating oil to gasoline. That proposal ultimately failed to gain the support of Riverhead Town Board members.

“Even though the operation of the fuel cell itself is kind of environmentally friendly, there’s still some questions,” Mr. Barbato said. “Questions like what the effluent is and what’s in it.”

Mr. Slevin did not return a phone call or an email seeking comment.

Scott Kamm, URT’s general manager, said FCE approached them about leasing a piece of land about the size of a tennis court for the fuel cell installation.

“All we were going to do is lease them the property,” he said. “But there are some exhausts that the fuel cell generates, so instead of it going back into the atmosphere, they asked us if we can put it back into our steam system.”

He said it’s basically FCE’s project, not URT’s.

Mr. Kamm said fuel cells are safe and FCE had taken him on a tour of some of their locations in Connecticut, although he hadn’t heard from them recently.

“We were in discussions earlier this summer but I haven’t heard anything in a few months,” Mr. Kamm said.

Riverhead Town has itself sought to attract fuel cell installations to a proposed “energy park” it’s planning at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, although that project has so far not moved forward.

Both Ms. Prizer and Mr. Barbato said EPCAL would be an appropriate location for fuel cells.

Angela DeVito, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, said her group wants to get more information on the project before taking a position.

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Photo credit: Barbaraellen Koch

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