Residents of Montauk used the East Hampton Town Planning Board’s review last week of an application to build a power storage facility on Shore Road to rail against PSEG-Long Island’s plans to relocate the Montauk power substation to a new site nearby.
Planning Board Chairman Job Potter noted at the start of the hearing on the battery storage facility on Wednesday, August 9, that the town has no jurisdiction over the substation relocation proposal. But in their comments on the battery project, residents nonetheless focused largely on the power plant, since its planned relocation more or less dictates where the battery facility will be needed.
Noise, light pollution and fears about flooding during storms dominated the comments by the handful of residents who spoke, almost entirely aimed at the plans for the new substation.
“This power station will be my new neighbor,” said Fran Parisi. “If I sit on my porch, I can hear the waves in Fort Pond Bay. Can you tell me that I will be able to hear the waves if this power station is constructed? These are the attractions in Montauk: to listen to the water, to walk a quiet beach. You’re going to take all that away just because you can’t change your plans.”
Sarah Conway, another resident, noted the extensive efforts at resiliency planning that have gone into the recent hamlet study analysis of Montauk—much of which focused on moving development out of flood zones.
“We spent all this time at the hamlet studies … and all the focus is on putting our infrastructure on higher ground, and to turn around and take our most important infrastructure in Montauk and put it in this area that floods all the time? I don’t think it’s going to serve us in times of emergency,” she said.
Town planning officials have said they urged PSEG to build the new substation on land adjacent to the town recycling center on Montauk Highway, which sits hundreds of feet above sea level. The utility company has declined, saying doing so would be impractical and unnecessary in the near future.
The battery storage facility has been proposed by a limited liability company called Montauk Energy Storage Center LLC and pitched by executives from NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida-based renewable energy company. The plans call for the company to purchase a small half-acre corner of land between Shore Road and the Long Island Rail Road tracks, adjacent to the 1.2-acre LIPA-owned parcel where PSEG says it will build the new substation next year.
The company wants to construct a 4,100-square-foot aluminum building to house the industrial batteries—capable of storing up to 5 megawatts of electricity—and related equipment.
The Montauk Energy Storage project was chosen by LIPA as one component of a plan to address increasing deficits in power supply it says the South Fork will see in the coming decade through renewable energy resources.
The batteries would store electricity—most of which is expected to eventually come from 15 offshore wind turbines proposed to be built 30 miles southeast of Montauk—and release it when demand exceeds the local supply from the substation.
This summer, PSEG stationed mobile natural gas-powered generators on the current substation property that can be fired up during times of peak demand, typically summer weekend afternoons.
PSEG has said it will decommission the current substation, which sits just a few feet from the waters of Fort Pond, next year and construct a new one on its other property. The new property, which LIPA has been leasing to local contractors for decades, will be raised to boost the height of the new substation to 12 feet above sea level—high enough to put it out of the reach of storm surges and flooding for the approximately 40-year expected lifespan of the substation, the company says.
Ross Groffman, an executive at NextEra who has been the spokesman for the battery project, said that the building proposed would sit 4 feet above the flood level of a 500-year storm, according to FEMA projections.
But residents noted that the station itself being above water will not change the conditions on the land around it, which floods regularly after heavy rainfall and was inaccessible for two days after Hurricane Sandy.
“If there’s an opportunity to move something to a high, dry, safe spot, why would you want to create an island?” asked James Grimes, an East Hampton Town Trustee whose landscaping company had been leasing the LIPA property next door to the proposed battery facility. “Not to deny the renewable energy—that’s not what this is about. Deny it for the fact that putting it where it’s proposed is poor planning. If those goes through, we’re going to repeat past mistakes.”
Not all of those in the audience on Wednesday evening saw the battery project itself as objectionable.
“If they’re moving the substation … what does it matter?” said Trish Scott, who said she recently sold her property on Navy Road because of the plans to relocate the substation closer to the neighborhood. “PSEG are going to be there. If that’s already the case, I think that little 0.4 of an acre won’t make any difference. All of Shore Road is industrial.”
Renewable energy advocates also urged the Planning Board to approve the battery project proposal, saying it is essential to the town and New York State’s efforts to move toward reliance on renewable energy.
“Time is of the essence here, because we are facing peak demand shortages on the East End,” said Gordian Raake of Renewable Energy Long Island, highlighting PSEG’s use of “dirty generators on truck beds” to meet the shortages now.
A representative of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said that battery storage facilities like the one proposed are a key element of the shift from energy generated by power plants to solar and wind power, since those resources will have times of higher and lower output.
“Renewable energy goals … cannot be realized without these types of storage systems put in place first,” said Harry Somma. “Battery storage is a critical component of the transition to renewable energies.”
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