HADLEY — Planning Board Chair Jim Maksimoski summarized the difficulties facing the town in dealing with a 5 megawatt battery storage facility proposed for a residential area on Breckinridge Road.

“This is a complex situation,” Maksimoski said. “We have a solar bylaw written quite a few years ago. Town counsel has determined that it does not permit energy storage from the grid … [But] the powers that be have determined you cannot disallow solar or energy storage.”

Maksimoski told concerned residents attending a hearing on the project submitted by Zero-Point Development the commonwealth has rejected bylaws proposed in other towns that disallow battery storage facilities. During the discussion, Maksimoski commented that the Attorney General’s office informed Planning Board members that battery facilities must be allowed.

Board member Michael Sarsynski bristled at the language used by the Attorney General’s office, the demand to accommodate the project regardless of local conditions. “Let ‘em sue us,” Sarsynski said. “I’d rather be sued than put lives in jeopardy.”

Tom Corbett, a project manager at Zero-Point, described the safety features built into the lithium ion battery system and the circumstances pushing the Attorney General’s office to pressure town’s to accept storage facilities. The electrical grid in the commonwealth, Corbett said, is becoming engorged with energy generated by solar arrays large and small.

“The state of Massachusetts is going through a green movement and is moving toward electrifying the grid with offshore wind … and opening up for a lot more solar in the near future,” Corbett said. “What the goal is on the state level is to … store that energy for later use, during times of high demand.”

The electrical grid is nearing its capacity. The Cape Wind offshore generation project will soon be producing gigawatts of wind power. Battery storage facilities, like the one proposed for Breckinridge Road, will capture local solar generation and store it for nighttime use.

Corbett explained the storage system will cycle through energy generated during the day by releasing it onto the grid at night. One benefit is a savings on demand charges, costs for delivering power over a distance through utility lines owned by ISO New England. Residents will avoid those charges and the storage facility will free up space on the grid for local power, generated daily.

Corbett said stored electricity will cycle through the interior system, which will have three levels of safety containment. Energy circulates through modules, lithium ion units arranged in racks, with containment between each module. Three feet will separate each rack within a container. Racks will be enclosed in two containers, each container designed to prevent releases of liquid or smoke.

Corbett said the system will be remotely monitored, with an automatic shutdown if any readings approach unsafe levels. Internal temperature, module temperature, charge levels and energy distribution within the facility will be monitored. A container can be isolated and shut off if a threshold number is approached.
Residents on the Zoom hearing were not reassured. Sarsynski was concerned about the threat to the town’s aquifer, but also about the impact if there was a fire.

“When these things explode we’re not worried about the aquifer,” Sarsynski said. “We’re worried about toxic gases.”

“How do you prevent batteries from exploding?” asked Planning Board member Mark Dunn. “That would be one concern that a lot of people have.”

Residents’ fears were stoked by several recent conflagrations at battery storage facilities in New York state. Sarsynski also referred to an incident on a ship when batteries exploded and toxic smoke caused injuries. Corbett assured residents that solar storage batteries are in use in many private homes and in neighboring towns that built municipal solar arrays.

Resident Tony Fyden wasn’t satisfied. Fyden mentioned the proposed project is in the town’s aquifer district. A leak of toxic liquids could have catastrophic consequences. Smoke from a battery fire would impact the residential neighborhood along Breckinridge Road, including a playground a short distance away.

“These fires are dangerous,” Fyden said. “It just puts our entire community at risk. One point that came up is lithium batteries … It’s not irrelevant that these are made with slave labor.”

Earlier in the hearing, Sarsynski voiced a similar opinion. “There’s a higher law than Hadley bylaw,” Sarsynski said. “Cobalt mining requires slave labor.”

Maksimoski had to explain to those attending the hearing that its purpose was to review the Zero-Point project. A second hearing scheduled for later in the meeting was to review a new solar bylaw allowing battery storage systems. That bylaw may be voted on at Town Meeting in May.

A decision on the Zero-Point project probably won’t be made until an updated bylaw is in place. The hearing on March 19 was scheduled because, under the old bylaw, the Planning Board had not expeditiously moved on the proposal. The project would have soon received approval due to inaction by the board.

Maksimoski referred to town bylaws when voicing his reservations about the battery project. He commented the system will circulate ethylene glycol as a coolant. Ethylene glycol is a toxic, colorless organic compound often used for heating and cooling applications.

“Ethelyne glycol in that amount, as a cooling medium in this volume, is not allowed above the aquifer,” Maksimoski said. “Roughly 350 gallons of ethylene glycol? It is not allowed above the aquifer.”
The hearing on the Zero-Point project was continued to June 4. Discussion of the new bylaw was short. The hearing on the bylaw update was continued to April 2.

Fyden summarized the concerns of residents. “Approving these batteries is insanity and I hope you reject it.”