Locals worry about fires, noise from proposed power reinforcements
By Gwendolyn Craig
An Adirondack Park hamlet in Hamilton County is gearing up to host a microgrid, a battery storage facility that could help service National Grid customers from Raquette Lake to Old Forge. Some residents, however, are concerned about the proposal and crave more information.
The 20-megawatt project would include 12 tractor-trailer-sized modules on about 2.4 acres on Antler’s Road in the hamlet of Raquette Lake. Contractors will also install an underground utility line from Antler’s Road to state Route 28.
National Grid issued requests for proposals for a battery energy storage system in 2018. Rev Renewables won the contract to own and operate the facility.
Amy Walters-Clough, a seasonal resident of Raquette Lake, said she was shocked by the proposal and is crafting a petition to stop it.
“We want to know what’s going on,” Walters-Clough said. “It is appalling that the town board, that Rev Renewables, National Grid, no one has held a town hall or given any information. … That’s very frustrating. And then, of course, is there any opportunity to stop it?”
The hamlet is within the town of Long Lake, whose supervisor, Clay Arsenault, promised to conduct a public meeting soon. He said the project should come as no surprise to residents.
A microgrid was proposed in the town’s 2021 comprehensive plan in the infrastructure section. Long Lake’s “long distance from power generation sources means that there is a greater amount of transmission infrastructure exposed to risks like falling trees and windstorms,” it said. “The Town should continue to diversify its power sources and consider using generators, solar, and battery cells.” The plan also disclosed intentions to work with National Grid on installing “high-capacity battery cells.”
Arsenault described a number of “unacceptably long and frequent power outages in the area,” and said the town has talked with National Grid for years on mitigating them.
“This is a good project,” Arsenault said. “There still are some things we have to figure out. Like everyone else, we want to make sure this project is carefully reviewed—the aesthetics, safety impacts to the community, environmental assessment.”
The Adirondack Explorer spoke with Tom McCarthy, director of project development for Rev Renewables, an energy infrastructure company focused on decarbonization and battery energy storage projects. Its parent company, LS Power, “has developed, constructed, managed or acquired more than 45,000 MW (megawatts) of power generation, including utility-scale solar, wind, hydro, natural gas-fired and battery energy storage projects,” according to Rev Renewable’s website.
The Raquette Lake proposal is unique, McCarthy said, in that it calls for creating a battery energy storage project and a microgrid. That means “if the circuit out to Raquette Lake to Old Forge, 29 miles long, if that circuit is lost, this battery will pick up again in a microgrid load until the power comes back. … This project will go a long way to improving the reliability throughout that region.”
The battery system is considered more environmentally friendly because other backup generators usually run on fossil fuels, McCarthy said. The batteries will be made from lithium iron phosphate, which McCarthy called the “safest technology available now.”
So far, Rev Renewables has purchased one of two parcels on Antler’s Road from the Pohl family. Dean Pohl owns one of the parcels Rev Renewables would build its microgrid on, and is also a town board member.
Pohl, who has lived in Raquette Lake for about 60 years and runs the Raquette Lake Navigation Co., has used his own property to upgrade the region. For example, he put a cell tower in his backyard, something that was difficult to get permitted with the Adirondack Park Agency and had some backlash from neighbors. Now, he and his son are selling land to get Raquette Lake and the region better power. At least once a month, Pohl said, residents lose power–sometimes for days.
For a half-century, Pohl said, the community has been searching for ways to get backup power. With the state’s new regulations discouraging use of fossil fuels, a diesel-powered generator is an undesired reserve.
McCarthy said he is working with the town, county and state agencies on any necessary permit applications. He does hope to start construction this year, with the microgrid in operation by late 2024 or early 2025.
The APA, the state regulator on development and long-range planning inside the Blue Line, will not have jurisdiction over the bulk of the project. Keith McKeever, spokesman for the APA, said the project calls for less than a 40-foot structure and the site is within a hamlet, where the APA has fewer restrictions. It is outside any wetlands, except perhaps where the underground line would tie into National Grid’s substation, which could trigger APA jurisdiction.
Walters-Clough doesn’t object to a more reliable electric grid, but has concerns over the noise and public safety of such a project. She also worries about the wetlands and the lake named after the hamlet. In her online research, Walters-Clough found alarming news reports of battery storage fires.
“I wish it was down on a farm in the flatlands,” Walters-Clough said.
McCarthy said the hum coming from the battery storage facility would be comparable to any substation. The noise level at the fence line of the project would be about 65 decibels, which is about normal conversation.
Raquette Lake Fire Chief Mark Bird is also concerned about what could happen should there be a fire at the microgrid. Bird has been chief since 2012 and leads a department of about 20 volunteers. He questioned if a project of this scale is appropriate for the size of the town.
“They’re not supposed to burn, I understand that,” Bird said. “But if there is (a fire), between us and the surrounding departments, I don’t know how we’d handle such a thing.”
McCarthy stopped at the station and discussed training the local departments, Bird said.
McCarthy told the Explorer you can’t put water on an electrical fire, and the strategy would be to contain the flames and let them burn out. McCarthy said the likelihood of such a thing is low. The facility will have detection systems for smoke, heat and gas. If something is detected at a module, it will shut down, he said.
During the construction phase, McCarthy said, they will develop an emergency response plan. Bird questioned if the hamlet would need to be evacuated.
“I don’t see a scenario where that happens,” McCarthy said. “But that’s a call made locally. In this case, this is a very small project.” McCarthy added that “the technology has changed tremendously,” from years past.
Pohl thinks the fire chief and his department are up to the task. He also thinks the region doesn’t have any other options for backup power.
“Listen, this isn’t good country to have a wind turbine, number one,” Pohl said. “There’s no water source like Niagara Falls to generate power with water. And outside of a nuclear plant, which would do the trick, I don’t know if anything else would work here.”