Town’s BESS task force holds first meeting

Southold Town’s recently formed Battery Energy Storage System task force, which will help guide the town’s renewable energy future, held its inaugural meeting Monday afternoon at Town Hall.

During their first hour together as a group, the seven members introduced themselves, discussed their backgrounds, ironed out the group’s mission and set a plan for future meetings.

The town’s latest independent committee will help officials plan for the burgeoning renewable energy technology — which is currently not permitted under town code but will potentially be a key aspect of Southold’s future. While the task force will not be drafting actual code — that is the Town Board’s responsibility — it will conduct research into overall BESS technology, study other municipalities’ codes and meet with experts, advocates for and opponents of the technology. During Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Scott Russell told members they will also “have access to the planning department, planning director, Planning Board members if you’d like, the chief building inspector, anyone from that department, the fire marshal … the town attorney [and] every Town Board member” to help them with their objective.

The task force members will then distill their findings into a final report that will help guide the town’s crafting of a BESS code.

The body’s first meeting took place three months after the board unanimously passed a moratorium on proposals for BESS facilities, including a controversial bid from Key Capture Energy of Albany, which hopes to build a 60-megawatt BESS facility on 27 acres along Oregon Road in Cutchogue. The project has drawn public backlash for its location, potential environmental impacts and safety concerns, including local fire departments’ ability to respond to emergencies at the facility.

The task force decided Monday that their ideal first guest speaker will be a representative from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a public-benefit corporation that provides information on renewable energy technologies. Mr. Russell said he will ask NYSERDA to send a representative to meet with the task force as soon as possible, which he estimated will be in time for the group’s third meeting.

The supervisor also said he hopes the task force will involve local fire departments in their deliberations as soon as possible.

“I do think one of the mistakes some of the original applicants make [for BESS systems] made was that they did not include the fire departments soon enough, fast enough, and I was going to ask if you wanted to start early by at least getting them around the table and start listening to them and some of the concerns they’ve had,” Mr. Russell said. “[The departments] had been sort of presented with these applications almost at the last minute, and they had been running around gathering as much information on the industry as they can… it’s really up to you, whether you might want to engage them early enough in the conversation.”

Throughout the meeting, task force members jotted notes on yellow and white legal pads and in portfolios and notebooks. All Southold residents recruited from a variety of backgrounds, each member pledged to take an unbiased dive into the task ahead of them.

Most members, including John Kongelotos, an MIT graduate who said he currently performs solar and battery storage inspections, are well acquainted with renewable energy systems, but none of them outsourced themselves as experts on BESS technology.

“I’ve also built electric cars through undergrad experience,” Mr. Kongelos said. “So I have some exposure to the systems from the actual cellular level in terms of the battery cell.”

Others, such as Michael Macco, have no technological background. He said he volunteered simply because “I wanted to help out in the community I live in.”

“I am not an engineer, I am an attorney,” he added. “I know nothing about battery storage systems. I come here with a completely open mind. I know that progress is inevitable and I want to make sure that any code that’s written balances the community interests as well as going forward technology-wise.”

In addition to the supervisor, Town Board members Jill Doherty and Brian Mealy, town attorney Paul DeChance and fire marshal Fred Visser were in attendance for Monday’s initial session. Going forward, Mr. Russell said the task force will meet independently and have a dedicated liaison on the Town Board.

The BESS task force was designed as a nine-member body. The board is still in the process of filing the final two positions. In addition to Mr. Kongelotos and Mr. Macco, current task force members are Umberto Fasolino, James Kennedy, Conrad Owen, Michael Sande and Thomas Sarakatsannis.

The seven members currently seated agreed to meet each other Monday through September for approximately one hour. Outside of those meetings, they will stay in communication and divvy up tasks such as keeping up with reading materials ahead of future sessions.

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