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    Monday, March 27, 2023

    Opposition grows to Old Mystic energy storage facility

    Stonington — A group of neighbors, the Aquarion Water Co. and some town officials are criticizing a proposal by a Virginia firm to construct an energy storage facility off rural Prentice Williams Road in Old Mystic. 

    They say it endangers the aquifer where it is located and the nearby Aquarion Water Co. reservoir, does not conform to the rural zoning in the area, and poses both a fire and safety hazard for neighbors. The state Siting Council and not the town, though, will decide whether to issue the required permit for the project.

    The only control the town would have over the project is that residents would have to approve the tax abatement the firm has said it would be seeking for the project.   

    "How many places allow a commercial industrial complex on GBR-130 (greenbelt residential) land)? It's mind-boggling. It does not make sense, " said Curt Floyd, who along with several relatives lives in homes on nearby Laurence Eleanor Street on farmland that has been in his family for almost 300 years.

    Scott Connuck, the senior project developer for East Point Energy of Charlottesville, Va., said Friday that last week he met for the first time with neighbors to discuss their concerns. He described the meeting as very productive.

    "Clearly we have a lot of due diligence to do. We are in the very early stages of this project. We have a long way to go," he said.

    Two weeks ago Connuck outlined the project to the Economic Development Commission. The so-called Grid Scale Energy Storage system uses lithium ion batteries and is designed to produce resiliency in the energy grid when power is needed. Renderings of the project show 34 battery enclosures the size of cargo shipping containers and a substation placed on a concrete slab and surrounded by a security fence and trees for screening.  The 27-acre site at 94 Prentice Williams Road owned by Amons Stack LLC, whose principal is Lawrence Williams of Old Mystic, is zoned greenbelt residential, which means 130,000 square feet of land is needed to build a home.

    Connuck estimated that the project, which takes electricity from the adjacent Eversource power lines and stores it in batteries for later sale and use, would be worth tens of millions of dollars. He said East Point Energy would be seeking a tax abatement from the town for the project.

    After listening to the plan, EDC members agreed to support the project and work with East Point to craft a development agreement, so the town is competitive with other communities that might be trying to lure the project to their town with a tax abatement.

    But Floyd and his relatives say they never knew about the EDC meeting because neither East Point nor Williams, their cousin, had told them about the project. They said they learned of it when The Day published a story about the EDC meeting.

    At that meeting, Connuck told the EDC they had not reached out to neighbors because the immediate neighbors were relatives who did not oppose it.

    The opposition  

    In a letter to the Conservation Commission, which heard a presentation on the plan last week, Carolyn Giampe, the director of sustainability & Environmental Management for the Aquarion Water Co., wrote that the proposed site for the battery storage facility is situated within the watershed for the Dean/Palmer Reservoir system that serves more than 14,000 people, the majority of whom live in Stonington.

    "The tree clearing and addition of impervious surface will have a permanent negative effect on the water quality of the nearby wetlands, watercourse, and drainage which enters the public drinking water supply reservoir. We believe battery storage is an important part of Connecticut's clean energy future and we understand the difficulty of siting infrastructure projects.  However, we urge the developer to seek a location that does not adversely affect the drinking water supply for the community," she wrote.  

    First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said last week the town needs more information about the entire program.

    "But I can't see a situation where the community would support that," she said.

    Both she and Selectwoman Deborah Downie, a licensed environmental professional, said there are a lot of environmental concerns about the project.

    Floyd, his spouse Donna Cristadore, along with relatives Cody Floyd, Wyatt Floyd and Craig Floyd outlined their concerns about the project.  

    They said the entrance to the property goes through wetlands and the road leading to the site is between 10 and 17 feet wide. With the need for heavy equipment to access the site for construction and deliver the storage containers, they said the road would be blocked to fire trucks, police and ambulances.

    Curt Floyd, the former deputy chief of the Poqounnock Bridge Fire Department in Groton who now works for the National Fire Protection Association, said he has studied lithium ion battery fires across the country. He said such runaway fires can only be extinguished with huge amounts of water but sometimes they are allowed to burn themselves out, which he said could last a week. He said water put on any fire would flow into the Copps Brook watershed that feeds into the Aquarion reservoir. He said fire could spread to the adjacent forest.  

    Floyd said the nearest fire hydrant is 2 miles away, which means tankers would have to shuttle water to the fire down the road, which is too narrow for two trucks to pass each other. In addition, he said, residents may have to evacuate.

    Cody Floyd questioned what the monitoring procedures would be to determine whether conditions were creating a fire danger.  

    Old Mystic Fire Chief Ken Richards, whose department serves Prentice Williams Road, could not be reached to comment.

    Curt Floyd said the family is not against technology to reduce carbon emisisons. 

    "But not in the middle of the woods in a GBR-130 area," he said. "There are plenty of places Stonington with substation where they could put this that is easier to access with emergency services."  

    East Point response

    Connuck explained his firm used maps and Google Earth to identify possible locations for such a project.

    "There's a limited amount of electrical infrastructure where this makes sense," he said, adding his firm has identified other sites in Connecticut. He declined to say if any of those are in southeastern Connecticut.

    Connuck said that typically his firm requires a seven- to 10-year tax abatement to be approved by a community for a project to go forward. Such abatement helps offset large upfront costs for such projects.

    As for concern about the location of the project above an aquifer and near a reservoir, Connuck stressed there would be no air or water emissions from the project and no runoff onto adjacent properties.

    He said the batteries are contained within nonflammable metal containers, which remain water- and airtight even in a fire. He said when such batteries have caught fire there has been no groundwater contamination. He said risk of fire is very low as the batteries are monitored 24 hours a day and systems can remove oxygen to stop a fire while water and firefighting foam can be used to exteinguish them. In addition, he said, the immediate area around the battery enclosures is gravel with no vegetation that can catch fire.

    As for access by emergency vehicles during construction, he said other locations are on rural roads and can be managed to ensure access.

    In addition to increased tax revenue for the town as the tax abatement is phased out, Connuck said the project has variety of benefits such as reducing pollution and the need for more electrical infrastructure, improving reliability during blackouts and providing power during peak demand periods.

    "Its quiet and it's safe," he said.


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