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Schenectady County Calls for Energy Storage Moratorium

Two county lawmakers have called for a 12-month moratorium on the construction and siting of battery energy storage systems, citing the fire risks of lithium-ion batteries. Battery energy storage systems have become a growing concern across the state.

A pair of Schenectady County, N.Y., Republican lawmakers are calling for a countywide moratorium on the construction of battery energy storage systems, citing the potential for emergencies at the facilities that they say local fire departments are unprepared to handle.

Legislators Eric Hess and Josh Cuomo of District 4 are calling for a 12-month moratorium on the construction and siting of battery energy storage systems as a way "to protect and ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of Schenectady County residents and first responders."

Safety around the systems — which store excess energy captured by renewable sources like solar arrays and wind turbines — has been a topic of discussion throughout New York in recent months after four of the systems caught fire earlier this year throughout the state. Gov. Kathy Hochul, in July, announced an inter-agency fire safety working group that will be tasked with investigating the fires and developing recommendations.

"There is a presumption of industry safety compliance," Hess, the legislature's minority leader, said in a statement. "The fact of the matter is that this technology changes rapidly, muh faster than regulation. We need to do something now to protect our first responders and the citizens of Schenectady County."

In a news release, Hess and Cuomo, the lone Republicans on the 15-member legislature, said they presented a legislative initiative form last month in hopes that the topic would be added to the legislative agenda for discussion, but that never happened.

Instead, the pair say they were told that local emergency responders were offered training and resources to respond to emergencies at battery energy storage system facilities in the county.

But Hess said he recently learned that volunteers at the Pattersonville Volunteer Fire Department were unaware that a battery storage system located along Rynex Corners Road that's been operational since 2021 was equipped with lithium-ion batteries until they toured the facility in August. The volunteers, Hess said, have had no training on fighting burning lithium-ion batteries — which have the potential to overheat, explode and can be challenging to extinguish.

Pattersonville Volunteer Fire Department could not be reached for comment.

Hess said failing to discuss the topic "is another example of bad policy by Democrat administrations" and said it's time for the Legislature to "start being proactive and not reactive."

"Most towns and municipalities do not have adequate solar-related BESS code and stand-alone BESS code is virtually non-existent," Hess said. "Our volunteer fire departments are ill prepared to handle the potential emergencies this equipment presents. They're asking for our help."

Anthony Jasenski, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature and a District 4 representative, said the county's fire coordinator and emergency management office has been gathering information on battery energy storage systems since the legislative initiative was submitted in September, and lawmakers will make a determination on whether a moratorium is necessary from there.

"They're doing their due diligence as we speak and as always, they will advise the county Legislature on what they believe is the best path forward so we can make a good decision," he said.

Jasenski said the topic could come up for discussion as early as next month, though he did not have an exact timeframe.

He added that the county's hazmat team undergoes monthly training on lithium-ion battery fires, and the county's emergency management office is working to develop a pre-plan alongside local fire departments. The county has also held a seminar on battery fires earlier this year and is seeking funding to cover the cost of an additional seminar in the future.

Battery energy storage systems have been a topic of discussion locally, particularly in Rotterdam and Duanesburg, where some residents have voiced safety concerns around the systems.

Rotterdam recently approved a six-month moratorium on the construction of battery energy storage systems as a way to give the town's Energy Advisory Committee time to draft new regulations around the systems.

In Duanesburg, battery energy storage systems are regulated under a solar energy law approved earlier this year, though some residents continue to raise concerns about the systems.

Jasenski said local municipalities can adopt moratoriums on the systems, noting that local municipalities have

"The Legislature meets once a month. We're gathering information and we'll make our decision based on what the professionals tell us what is needed," he said.

But Cuomo said a moratorium is necessary, and failing to act puts lives in danger.

"We need to take steps before a potentially life-threatening or fatal emergency happens", he said.

(c)2023 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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