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Oct 24, 2017 4:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Planners Split Over Montauk Battery Facility, With An Eye On PSEG Plans

The East Hampton Planning Board is still debating the fate of a proposed energy storage facility near Industrial Road in Montauk adjacent to the site of a planned new PSEG substation.
Oct 24, 2017 5:19 PM

Members of the East Hampton Town Planning Board are split over whether to support a proposal to build an energy storage facility in Montauk that has, in some eyes, become a proxy for plans by PSEG to relocate its substation in an area that could be submerged during a severe storm.

After public hearings over the summer, at which neighbors voiced fears about noise from the building’s air conditioning units and power inverters, the company proposing the battery project along the low-lying isthmus of land between Fort Pond Bay and Fort Pond, Montauk Energy Storage Center LLC, added an 8-foot soundproof wall and a drainage canal to capture storm water runoff to its plans.

That seemed to satisfy all the board members at last week’s Planning Board meeting about the immediate impacts of the project on its surroundings.

But some members of the board still harbored misgivings about giving a stamp of approval to placing a building containing industrial-size batteries within what is a seen as an area that could be inundated by seawater in a Category 2 hurricane, and possibly even a Category 1 storm.

Board members Diana Weir, Nancy Keeshan and Ian Calder-Piedmonte all said they supported approving the battery facility proposal. But Job Potter and Kathy Cunningham both voiced continued reservations about approving the project.

“I’m really back to questioning the wisdom of putting this in this location at all,” Mr. Potter said. “The thing that is haunting me with this is the 15 feet quoted height of the storm surge in the 1938 hurricane. If you had a 15-foot storm surge in this area, you’ve got a really serious problem.”

But Mr. Potter also nodded to the elephant in the room: The new PSEG substation that is to be built next door to the battery facility next year is the main reason for the battery storage proposal in that location in the first place.

The town has been lobbying PSEG in recent years and months to reconsider where it moves its substation to, urging PSEG to find a location far above flood zones, and even offering a portion of town-owned property at the Montauk recycling center, hundreds of feet above sea level. The property LIPA (then LILCo) bought in the 1970s to be used for a new substation someday sits just 12 feet above sea level.

Mr. Calder-Piedmonte noted that while he thinks the battery facility fits the town’s and the board’s parameters for approval, he does not want his support to indicate that he supports PSEG’s building the new substation next door.

“I think when this came before us, all of us had concerns … I do think you’ve addressed those concerns,” Mr. Calder-Piedmonte said.

“As to the flooding, you’ve raised the site up enough to be well above our code requirement. Asking for more than that, I don’t know how we find the basis or rationale for that. If we are going to deny this, there has to be a reason … and I don’t think we’re finding it.”

But Mr. Calder-Piedmonte said he wants the wording of any approval of the battery project, if one should come, to very clearly not be a sanctioning of PSEG’s plans to relocate its substation. He noted that one of the board’s first questions was whether the battery facility needed to be immediately adjacent to the substation—and that the answer was that it did not.

Town planner Eric Schantz said that his department believes that the battery facility itself should not be considered critical infrastructure, but that the substation certainly would be. The town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan demands that critical infrastructure projects be located outside flood zones. But PSEG, as a public utility, is generally not required to bring its substation proposal before the town for approvals.

A recent court decision, however, has town officials exploring whether that may have changed in East Hampton’s case, with an eye on the Montauk substation plans.

The board did not take any action on the Montauk Energy Storage application, reserving it for further review.

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Does anyone else foresee the future of this project down the road? The question should be, "Locate in a flood zone, which is contrary to the recommendations of the LWRP?" or "Build the facility on the grounds of the Montauk Recycling Center where it is WELL above sea level?" Just because PSEG CAN doesn't mean that they SHOULD. Unless someone can explain why that solution is not being considered, it seems like a no-brainer.
By ValGal03 (58), Montauk on Oct 26, 17 6:22 PM
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