Months after residents expressed worry over a proposed battery energy storage system (BESS) project at the Knollwood Country Club, the town board passed a local law Aug. 11 amending sections of the town’s zoning code to regulate and define BESS. The new regulations restrict use by splitting the structures into three tiers and allow the fire districts to comment on BESS applications.
The passage of the amended law follows months of revisions and conversation with members of the public, the planning board, the Greenville and Hartsdale fire districts, the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Westchester County government and BESS developers.
The new law splits battery storage units into three tiers in order of increasing capacity. Units are classified as Tier 1 if they have an aggregate capacity less than or equal to 80 kWh. Tier 1 battery units are permitted in all zoning districts as long as a building permit is issued, but they will not be allowed in individual residential units within multifamily buildings.
Tier 2 units also face capacity limits and have zoning limits. Any unit that has a capacity between 80 kWh and 6,000 kWh in a one-family residence, a Central Avenue mixed-use residence (CA), a close business (CB), designated shopping (DS), an intermediate business (IB), a limited office building (LOB), an office building (OB and OB-1) and urban renewal (UR) zoning districts is considered a Tier 2 BESS facility.
A unit can also be classified Tier 2 if it is greater than 80 kWh and less than 12,000 kWh in zoning districts designated for general industry (GI), light industry (LI), nonresidential planned development (PD) and planned economic development (PED).
Tier 2 battery units in the CA, CB, DS, IB and UR zoning districts need to be on a minimum lot of 80,000 square feet. In the OB, OB-1, LOB, LI, GI, PD and PED districts, Tier 2 BESS facilities need to be on a lot that’s at least 40,000 square feet. Tier 2 BESS in one-family residential districts must be on property with a minimum of five acres and only when the system is an accessory to an existing building.
Tier 2 battery storage systems must be set back from property lines and on-site and off-site buildings by a minimum of 100 feet, though the planning board could reduce that requirement.
Site plan applications for Tier 2 BESS facilities must undergo a pre-submission conference with the fire district and applications must be referred to the building inspector and Conservation Advisory Council (CAC). Subject to a public hearing by the planning board, fire chiefs can comment on BESS applications and provide assurance that department personnel have been trained to respond to lithium-ion battery fires and have the proper equipment to handle that type of fire.
“One of the things that concerned us right from the beginning was the issue of safety and making sure that the fire department was involved in the application of any facility,” said Walter Simon, chair of the planning board and a member of the BESS Advisory Committee.
BESS facilities are limited to generating sound reaching no more than 60 dBA and applicants will need to provide a commissioning plan, a fire safety compliance plan, an operation, maintenance and monitoring manual, an emergency operations plan that is updated annually and a decommissioning plan.
The applicant will also need to provide a hazard mitigation analysis and a traffic safety circulation plan.
Special use permits and site plan approvals for battery storage systems will be valid for two years and will be considered abandoned if the facility doesn’t operate for one year.
Tier 3, the highest capacity BESS units, will have a capacity of 80 MWh or less. Tier 3 units can’t exceed a footprint of 30,000 square feet and only one system can be connected to each of the two Con Edison substations. If the Tier 3 unit is proposed as a principal use on the site, the BESS must be on a minimum 10-acre site. If a Tier 3 BESS is proposed for a second principal use on an existing property, then the site must contain at least 25 acres.
As a second principal use, 10 acres must be set aside to house the Tier 3 unit and have additional open space, which will serve as a conservation easement. Tier 3 units must be set back 100 feet from property lines and must also be located 500 feet from the property line of the nearest one-family residence.
Interest in drafting a local law to regulate BESS was piqued when Eagle Energy Storage, LLC, put forward an application to build a 20-megawatt four-hour battery storage facility on leased land next to the Knollwood Country Club’s parking lot.
In a letter to the planning board dated Nov. 12, building inspector Steven Fraietta wrote that the applicant was within the parameters to seek a special permit to construct the battery storage facility within a residential zone, citing Section 285-10(4)(b) of the town’s zoning code, which allows public utility structures to be built within residential zones if the town board cannot find another reasonable location. The law also excluded utility business offices, garages or storage yards and electric substations from special use permits.
In meetings during November and December 2020, members of the planning board issued a neutral recommendation for the proposed facility, sharing concerns about fire safety and environmental impact. They sent a memo to the town board Dec. 7 saying they thought Section 285-10(4)(b) didn’t seem to apply to the specific use of BESS, and they recommended that the town board either review the building inspector’s determination or refer the matter to the zoning board of appeals (ZBA).
Despite hearing concerns from the public and municipal groups, the town board refused to refer the matter to the zoning board of appeals as a Jan. 11 deadline approached.
Taking a nonstandard approach, the planning board voted 4-2 (with one abstention) to appeal the inspector’s decision to the ZBA. The Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations (CGCA) also submitted an appeal to the ZBA.
With the appeals under consideration, the town began the process of drafting a local law to regulate BESS. The ZBA agreed with the planning board that the BESS didn’t qualify as a public utility facility, but they denied the CGCA’s appeal, arguing that the organization didn’t have any standing to submit an appeal.
In January 2021, an advisory committee was formed to help develop a proposed law, and in February the town allocated $7,000 to retain engineering consultant Arup to help guide the creation of the law.
According to Garrett Duquesne, commissioner of the Department of Community Development and Conservation, the advisory committee met 11 times since it was formed in January to discuss the draft law.
“Arup was brought in rather early and had a large role in the formulation of the law,” said Duquesne, adding that the engineering firm focused mainly on the safety-based aspects of the law, while the town focused on the neighborhood character concerns.
A first draft of the law was presented in April and was sent to the planning board for review and comment. In a June 2 memo to the town board, the planning board voted to support the draft law, though the board was split by a vote of 4-3 as to what constituted an appropriate setback from a property line. According to the memo, dissenting members agreed that 50 feet “might appear arbitrary” and “not based on scientific findings.” They instead supported setbacks established through a hazard mitigation analysis or by the zoning district’s setback requirements.
In a June 9 public hearing on the draft law, Lino Sciarretta, a lawyer who represents the applicant Eagle Energy Storage, said the current draft law didn’t allow Eagle Energy to continue with its project. In a June 23 public hearing, James Robinson from Eagle Energy Storage said although the law was “reasonable,” the only questionable issue was the provision requiring Tier 3 BESS facilities to have a 10-acre buffer zone for open space as part of a conservation easement.
“That provision is quite problematic for our project. We also believe it would likely be problematic for most other projects of this type,” said Robinson, adding that it wasn’t something the company had contemplated when they partnered with the Knollwood Country Club.
The law as passed on Aug. 11 maintains the 10-acre open space requirement.