Editorial: Questions arise over battery energy storage systems

The prospect of creating battery energy storage systems in Southold and Riverhead has motivated community members and civic associations to air their views publicly. While such units go hand-in-hand with the critical need for clean energy, both towns are finding more work has to be done before any such facilities move forward.

A proposal by Key Capture Energy to build a 60-megawatt lithium- ion BESS on 27 acres on Oregon Road in Cutchogue — and the community opposition to it — has also prompted Supervisor Scott Russell to propose a 12-month moratorium on such facilities.

In Riverhead, Hexagon Energy has proposed a storage facility for Mill Road, and public debate there has centered primarily on issues related to town code. The proposal has not moved forward because BESS facilities are not permitted in the zoning category that applies to Hexagon’s intended site. Riverhead officials need to clearly lay out the exact steps that must be taken first before any such facility can be sited, but no votes on any potential code changes have been scheduled.

It is a certainty that storage technologies are in our future. BESS systems will be critical elements of renewable energy strategies in New York and nationwide — and will continue to grow. But questions about their safety abound, along with a host of other issues that must be addressed.

Mr. Russell raised the possibility of a moratorium on BESS facilities in Southold at a Cutchogue Civic Association meeting last week, saying, “The town recognizes the importance of battery energy storage facilities; we’re serious about the promotion, the viability of renewable energy.

“But at the same time,” he continued, “we have to be very careful to make sure that we go about developing a plan and a review process that’s very thoughtful and mindful of public safety and the environment.”

Mr. Russell struck the right chord on this. Yes, let’s do what we can to prepare for a future of much greener energy production — but hold on. What are the impacts locally? Don’t rush into this.

If Southold enacts a moratorium on BESS, it would be all-inclusive, affecting current and pending proposals, including Key Capture Energy’s. It would also prohibit the town from accepting any new applications for battery storage until a series of steps is first taken, with no possible end run around them.

For both Southold and Riverhead, the future will very likely include BESS facilities. The question before both Town Boards is how to proceed with them, where they can be sited and whether local, all-volunteer fire departments have what they need to deal with any related emergencies that arise.

There must be no jumping the gun in considering facilities for battery energy storage. Nothing can happen to move us to a cleaner energy future until all questions have been answered.