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Town Board poised to update town code to address battery energy storage units

The Riverhead Town Board is poised to make changes to the town code to respond to an expected increase in the number of “battery energy storage” units being proposed within the town. 

Town planner Matt Charters said the planning department has received two formal proposals so far, although both were rejected. He said in April that the town had received many inquiries about such systems. 

Board members discussed potential town code changes at last Thursday’s work session. The current code does not address battery energy storage systems.

Battery energy storage systems involve a single cell or group of cells connected electrically in a series, in parallel, or a combination or both, which can charge, discharge and store energy electrochemically, according to the definition drawn up by the town. 

The proposed code looks at two tiers, according to Mr. Charters:

• Tier 1 Battery Energy Storage Systems, which have an aggregate energy capacity less than or equal to 600kWh (kilowatt hours) and, if in a room or enclosed area, consist of only a single energy storage system technology.

• Tier 2 Battery Energy Storage Systems, which have an aggregate energy capacity greater than 600kWh or comprise more than one storage battery technology in a room or enclosed area.

Mr. Charters said Tier 2 could be “grid level” storage, which could be sold back to the grid. He said the proposed code changes are aimed primarily at Tier 2 storage 

Mr. Charters said the proposal will included a “decommissioning” fund to deal with removing the batteries once they are no longer in use. 

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said the battery units “are much smaller than a solar panel.” 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said they are similar in size to a generator.

“The risk of fire or explosion is almost nothing and is contained within the unit,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

He also questioned what happens to battery storage units as time progresses. Mr. Hubbard raised similar concerns about disposing of solar panels and said no one to date has had an answer for those questions. 

“I’m not comfortable with it, but I understand progress,” he said. 

Councilman Bob Kern said: “We have to stay on top of these if someone goes out of business.”

Mr. Beyrodt said, hopefully, the technology will improve.

Mr. Charters said much of the fire safety regulations in the new code were borrowed from New York State code. 

He recommended the board set a public hearing on the proposed code change and the Town Board scheduled one for the Aug. 16 meeting that begins at 6 p.m.