Now that the process for obtaining a permit for a home solar installation is streamlined, Town of New Paltz volunteers are focusing on the next step: battery storage. Volunteers on the Battery Energy Storage System Task Force have hammered out a proposed process for home batteries to store excess juice, and will next work on rules for larger, commercial systems.
Task force representative Joseph Londa briefed town council members at their October 6 meeting. The 1,000 megawatt cap was set at the state level, where the push is to have many of these storage systems available by 2025. This smallest size of batteries is designated as “tier 1,” and to make it easier to install them a model law was created to be adopted in local municipalities. That should prevent the initial weirdness that happened with solar permits, for which rules were developed independently for each locale. Developers had to navigate a mishmash of requirements before a model solar permit law was created.
The model rules for batteries, like the solar ones, provide a single starting point that should make it simpler for developers and homeowners alike. In New Paltz, the proposal is to modify the solar permits to include batteries; this will allow a resident to apply for the installation of home solar, or a home battery system, or both. While it’s expected that most applications will either be to add batteries to an existing solar array or to put in both at once, these batteries on their own can provide emergency backup power without the noise and pollution associated with legacy combustion generators. Putting them into the same permit process makes sense, according to Londa, because both an inverter and a transfer switch is necessary regardless.
Batteries would provide flexibility: instead of selling excess power into the grid and then possibly buying it back at a higher price, someone with a battery system would be able to store hundreds of megawatts before needing to send the excess out into the world. Building inspector Stacy Delarede is giving a review of the task force proposal, and will bring the final version back for town council approval. Once that’s done, there will be no need to ask Planning Board members to review each application for a battery system, which is just as it now works with most home solar installations.
Expanding the permit will not require changing any laws, but that’s only for battery systems up to 600 megawatts. Larger community storage systems are more complex, and at the moment are not legal in any zone. Task force members are already working on a proposed zoning amendment to make it possible to build these. The process would involve a site plan review at Planning Board meetings, as well as approval of a special use permit. According to Supervisor Neil Bettez, “This needs to happen in order to meet [state energy] goals.” Not only would these larger systems reduce the environmental damage for energy production, it could also bolster the energy grid where it’s most vulnerable, such as in the hamlet of Springtown.
Londa expects that the zoning changes will be before the council in the next few months.