Pictured Above: The site plan for the proposed Canal BESS project.

The Southampton Town Board unanimously approved a six-month extension to its moratorium on Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 15.

The board also agreed to hire consultants VHB, Inc. to help them develop new code for siting and safety of BESS facilities based on resident concerns and the recently released recommendations of a New York State BESS task force.

After months of pushback last year from Hampton Bays residents over a proposed 100-megawatt battery storage site known as Canal BESS not far from the Shinnecock Canal, the board agreed in August of 2023 to adopt a six-month moratorium on BESS facilities, including the Canal BESS project, which was being reviewed at the time by the Southampton Town Planning Board.

The Southampton Town had approved code for Battery Energy Storage Systems based on model code recommended by the New York State Energy Research & Development Agency (NYSERDA) at the height of the pandemic in 2020, and received little comment about the code, which allows battery storage systems in residentially zoned areas, at the time.

But after three fires at BESS facilities in New York State in late spring and early summer of 2023, and the Canal BESS application, which would be far larger than any of the facilities where fires occurred last year, members of the public began paying close attention.

“We went with the NYSERDA model code. We never expected anyone to come in with a 100 megawatt facility,” Southampton Town Planning & Development Administrator Janice Scherer told the Town Board at its Feb. 15 hearing. “At that utility scale level, we didn’t have that upper limit, which we understand now we need, in addition to fire safety protocols.”

She added that the town has heard the public concerns that BESS not be allowed “in any residential zones whatsoever,” and that VHB and her department plan to “work with community stakeholder groups to come up with a series of recommendations.”

“Our goal is to limit the size and deal with safety issues,” said new Town Supervisor Maria Moore. “We’re going to be responding to the recommendations from the state.”

The state battery working group is accepting public comments on their 15 code recommendations through March 5.

Members of the public were supportive of the moratorium extension, though some said they believe it should be longer, or that BESS should not be allowed in town at all.

Ms. Sherer acknowledged that six months is a tight time frame in which to discuss and draft code and then put it through a public hearing process prior to adoption of a new code. She added that her office has agreed to meet with the Suffolk County Planning Commission in three months to update the commission on the town’s progress.

“No one wants an industrial BESS located near their home,” said Hampton Bays resident and Civic Association Director Brigid Maher at the hearing, adding that she believes the Planning Board’s decision to declare the project would not be detrimental to the environment by issuing a “negative declaration,” or ‘neg dec’ under the State Environmental Quality Review Act last year was “done in haste.”

“The original zoning was arbitrary and irrational,” added Hampton Bays resident Gayle Lombardi, also a director of the Hampton Bays Civic Association, adding that she believes the six-month moratorium extension is “insufficient.”

“We’re six months in and not much work has been done,” she said.

“This whole thing to me has been irresponsible, with technology this size that nobody knows much about,” said Peter Governale, who lives about a quarter mile from the proposed Canal BESS. “It doesn’t belong there.”

Canal BESS’s attorney, Keith Archer, told the board that his client’s application “should have been granted” already and should not have been included in the moratorium.

“I can’t tell you how many BESS facilities there are nationwide, but there are thousands,” he said, adding that the state working group had found the fires last year had not damaged the environment. “These are occurrences that occur from time to time, but the state has done the work for the municipalities. There really isn’t a need at this point for a moratorium.”

“This application is unique,” he added. “It’s positioned for approval, it has a neg dec, and it should be separated out from any other applications.”

“Rather than a moratorium, I’d rather see the board go toward these not going anywhere at all,” said Gail Murcott, president of the Hampton Groves Beach Association, adding that she believes the people who are in favor of BESS are “paid to tell us how good it is for us.”

“Instead of doing moratoriums, make sure it doesn’t happen in our town at all,” she added.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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