Canton town board implements moratorium on commerical energy storage systems for solar projects
Friday, February 14, 2020 - 12:17 am

By ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week

CANTON — The town board here as instituted a moratorium on all energy storage system development within the town until Sept. 30. Town officials hope that the 6-month period will give them time to develop regulations to govern how large energy storage units like lithium ion batteries used in modern solar and renewable energy systems are sited, installed, monitored and managed.

Any industrial-level energy projects planned in the town, like the 3.5-square-mile solar farm proposed by EDF Renewables, could be affected if those projects involve storing energy in large lithium ion battery banks.

The town board approved the moratorium following a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 13.

Town attorney Eric Gustafson said, during the hearing, that the although the town had adopted a law regulating the development of large scale commercial solar operations last year, that law did not cover equipment and systems designed to store energy from those solar installations.

“We thought it was prudent to take this step and adopt a moratorium so that the appropriate regulations would be considered going forward,” Gustafson said.

“I strongly favor what you are doing here and appreciate the forward look that this takes,” said Canton resident Toby Irving during the hearing. “Because of the recent explosion that happened . . . in Arizona, it would seem the industry has taken a giant step backward to pause and rethink how this is handled.”

Irving is referring to the explosion last April of a large lithium ion battery energy storage system operated by the company APS near Phoenix. The system was one of more than 300 shipping-container sized battery system used by the company there. The incident, widely covered by major news networks, resulted in serious injuries for firefighters who responded to the incident.

“As I’m sure you’re well aware, the explosion of one of these lithium ion battery packs can not be extinguished by a traditional fire department.”

Irving said it actually took several months for the system to cool down so the battery materials could be removed.

“The thought of having multiple ones of these in the town of Canton (at the proposed EDF site) causes one to rethink and really step back,” Irving said.

Irving asked if the 6-month moratorium was long enough. “Is that a sufficient amount of time to consider the research,” he asked.

Gustafson said the moratorium could be extended if more time was needed.

Irving asked if companies and individuals seeking to construct a commercial solar operation would be notified in some way about the moratorium.

“The one that I’m aware of (EDF) doesn't convey any language at all about battery storage and yet the leases that people are signing does include them,” Irving said. The EDF project will lease about 2,200 acres of land from private landowners to install solar panels with related equipment.

Town Councilman Bob Washo said the town’s planning board and the process involved in obtaining permits will signal the moratorium to those planning such development, until the town board adopts comprehensive regulations for energy storage systems.

“If somebody submitted a project that had storage they would be told ‘There’s a moratorium, stay tuned,’” said Town Councilman Tim Danehy.

Supervisor Mary Ann Ashley added that there is also a legal notice posted on the town website regarding the moratorium.

“I would agree with Toby. It seems like an unknown technology, well maybe not unknown, but unknown to me at least,” said Canton resident John Casserly, who said other residents might also be unaware how such systems work. “I think it would be nice if it were studied a little more, or a lot more. . . and hopefully the process would be evaluated.”

The moratorium set by the town board does not apply to stand-alone household batteries, 12-volt car batteries or electric motor vehicles. It also does not apply “to energy storage systems located on or within any legally permitted building or structure for the purpose of storing electricity primarily for onsite consumption.”

Later during discussion on the issue in the board’s regular meeting, Washo said that in materials EDF presented last year that there was an option for installation of a 30-megawatt energy storage system as part of their proposed Canton project, which will now be covered by the moratorium.

Washo said the company would still be able to continue forward with the solar panel installation part of their project until the town can consider and adopt regulations regarding the storage aspects. He added that NYSERDA has recently released new guidelines regarding solar energy projects as well.

“This is a developing situation across the state. Everybody is just trying to stay caught up with it,” Washo said.