Task force recommends state fire code update for battery energy storage
By Chloe Bennett
The state on Tuesday released a draft of recommendations to enhance safety for battery energy storage systems like one proposed in the Adirondack Park’s hamlet of Raquette Lake. An inter-agency committee called for 15 steps, including updates to the state’s fire code. The group’s proposals provide insight into the ways regulators plan to address battery fire concerns.
Industry-funded peer reviews of all battery energy projects, an expansion of explosion control areas and on-site training for local fire departments were among the proposed requirements.
The inter-agency task force was formed in 2023 to investigate battery fires, including one in Jefferson County, and propose new rules for the systems. Initial data released in December showed no injuries or harmful levels of toxins from fires in Jefferson, Orange and Suffolk Counties last year.
“The battery energy storage industry is enabling communities across New York to transition to a clean energy future, and it is critical that we have the comprehensive safety standards in place,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “Adopting the Working Group’s recommendations will ensure New York’s clean energy transition is done safely and responsibly.”
In northern Hamilton County, energy developers proposed building a Raquette Lake battery energy storage system, called the Adirondack Central Microgrid, to address power outages in the town of Long Lake area. A months-long clash between the residents and the project’s developers, REV Renewables and National Grid, resulted in a moratorium on processing permits for battery energy storage systems in the town. The law passed by Long Lake lasts until August 2024, though the board members may vote to extend it.
The community was concerned about environmental harm and fires by the systems. Dozens of people attended town meetings in Long Lake to voice disapproval of the technology. A nonprofit group was formed to challenge the proposal. Members of Protect Raquette planned to hire environmental lawyers and perform their assessments of the battery site.
Experts including Neal Abrams, associate professor of chemistry and renewable energy at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, say newer battery technology is considered safer than past systems and unlikely to overheat. Representatives of REV Renewables have told the Explorer that they planned to ensure public safety by adhering to the state’s fire code, which is “one of the most strict in the whole country, that ensures these types of facilities are operated safely and with very, very low chance or risk of a fire occurring,” he said.
Battery energy facilities are critical to the future of renewable energy, researchers say, because they can substitute or complement many parts of a power system including generation and transmission.
“Realizing the full potential of New York’s clean energy future requires leadership and a commitment to the safe and responsible deployment of battery energy storage systems,” Doreen M. Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said.
The New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST) expressed appreciation for the draft proposal. The organization, made up of manufacturers, utilities, government entities and other parties, plans to work with the state on final recommendations.
“The energy storage industry appreciates the significant efforts of the state’s working group and we share the state’s interest in ensuring that battery energy storage is deployed safely throughout the state,” William Acker, executive director of NY-BEST, said.
The state is accepting public comments on the recommendations through the afternoon of March 5. Instructions for submitting a comment are found here.
Photo at top: These battery modules, supplied by the battery company BYD, show a similar-sized project to the one proposed in the hamlet of Raquette Lake. Photo courtesy of BYD