Board reviews training course on renewable energy storage

GLOVERSVILLE — Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jeffrey Ashe on Wednesday discussed a training course the board recently attended on energy storage facilities used to capture renewable energy as it is generated, suggesting a need for the city to plan for the eventual arrival of the units that he described as large batteries.

“What’s happening now with wind and solar is obviously the sun doesn’t shine all the time and the wind doesn’t blow all the time, but you want or need electricity 24 hours a day, so batteries can charge up and then batteries can produce that,” Ashe explained. “These are big industrial batteries that last for decades.”

Ashe noted that city code regulations were updated in 2016 in anticipation of the arrival of solar farms and multiple city projects are currently going through initial planning.

In the past year the city has pursued installing a community solar farm at the former landfill on East Fulton Street Extension located in the town of Johnstown with the Common Council awarding a contract for the project to Ameresco Inc. in August 2018. This project is currently under review by the Town of Johnstown Planning Board and a public hearing on plans for construction of a solar array on half of the landfill site is scheduled during the next meeting on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Another project is currently being considered by Eden Renewables, a Troy based developer of community solar farms, that earlier this year held an open house on a proposed solar farm project on roughly 58 acres of the 150 acre former Pine Brook Golf Course located at 280 S. Main St. The project located in a residential zone would be subject to a use variance and has not yet been presented to the city Planning Board.

Although these solar projects do not currently include plans for battery storage components, Ashe said the use of these systems to capture the energy as it is generated for later use is seemingly becoming more common.

“You’re power is going to be generated in smaller and smaller and more distributed plants. So with that having local storage in addition to local generation capacity is going to be a big deal for the way the electricity grid evolves over the next 50 years or so,” Ashe said.

Fulton County Senior Planner Sean Geraghty on Friday agreed that some solar developers seem to be more commonly including energy storage components in their projects, but said so far only one project that he knows of in the county includes plans for a storage unit.

The solar project by Hales Mills Solar LLC, also knows as Nexamp Inc. of Boston, to construct a 4.53 megawatt DC solar farm on Hales Mills Road between County Highway 107 and Route 29 was approved by the Johnstown Town Planning Board in November without plans for an energy storage system.

The developer returned to the board earlier this year seeking to amend the project to increase the size to 5.71 megawatts and to add four power storage battery units to be located in a storage container or similar structure. The amendment to the project received board approval in April.

Geraghty said a few solar developers have approached the Fulton County Planning Department inquiring about the approval process for including or adding an energy storage component to planned projects, but none have yet to pursue this additional piece.

He added that out of curiosity he asked one developer why the company wasn’t pursuing energy storage batteries for local projects when it had for projects in other locations, learning that the company pursued the battery storage near larger cities where demand was higher and did not currently feel this component is needed to meet local consumption.

Geraghty went on to note the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recently added energy storage units used to store renewable energy as it is generated to the types of projects that are eligible to receive tax credits, suggesting that the incentive could increase their use.

“Renewable energy, if it is not used immediately or it is not downloaded into the power grid, it is lost,” Geraghty explained. “What battery storage does is it starts storing the energy.”

To prepare for the possible arrival of these energy storage units locally, Geraghty noted that Hales Mills Solar is working with town of Johnstown Building Inspector Todd Unislawski who is also chief of the Sammonsville Volunteer Fire Department to provide training for volunteer fire companies throughout the region on how to respond in the event of a failure or fire involving one of the large batteries.

Geraghty said the training will be provided after construction of the facility is complete to ensure firefighters receive field training. He added that each battery has its own fire suppression system and there is no concern that the units will fail, but the training will cover proper procedure in case a situation should ever arise requiring an emergency response.

During Wednesday’s meeting Ashe said the information covered during the board training course will aid the board in making a determination on how to proceed if a developer in the future seeks a variance for a proposed project in the city featuring an energy storage component.

“If we do have a case that comes in front of us for these battery storage facilities we’ll at least be a little more knowledgeable at least in what types of questions to ask in trying to minimize the impact to the neighborhood, but I think the real take away from it was that the city should be on the ball and they should have legislation that’s anticipating these are going to happen,” Ashe said.

When contacted for comment on Friday, Mayor Vincent DeSantis said the city has not yet considered the subject, but would research the topic and contemplate legislation surrounding the use of energy storage units in the city should the need arise.