Battery storage bylaw passes in Wendell

Wendell resident Myron Becker speaks during a Special Town Meeting at Town Hall on Wednesday night.

Wendell resident Myron Becker speaks during a Special Town Meeting at Town Hall on Wednesday night. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

The Special Town Meeting in Wendell on Wednesday night saw 102 registered voters pack into Town Hall. Moderator Kathleen Nolan stands in the front of the room.

The Special Town Meeting in Wendell on Wednesday night saw 102 registered voters pack into Town Hall. Moderator Kathleen Nolan stands in the front of the room. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-02-2024 6:00 PM

WENDELL — Town Hall was packed Wednesday night with 102 registered voters eager to have their voices heard on a bylaw regulating battery energy storage systems, which was overwhelmingly approved.

The Special Town Meeting warrant article was proposed by No Assault & Batteries, a local citizens’ committee formed in opposition to the 105-megawatt battery storage facility that Lowell-based New Leaf Energy has proposed for 68 Wendell Depot Road. Wednesday’s vote adds a general bylaw to deal with the licensing of battery energy storage systems, including those powered by lithium-ion batteries. Members of No Assault & Batteries hope adoption of the bylaw will stop the New Leaf Energy project.

The only approved amendment — adopted unanimously — altered some language pertaining to license approval without affecting the specified requirements. Any battery energy storage system with a power rating greater than 1 megawatt and no more than 10 megawatts will require approval from the Wendell Licensing Board, which will be made up of Selectboard members as well as one member appointed from the Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Energy Committee, Municipal Light Board and Finance Committee. The bylaw also states that no battery energy storage proposal greater than 10 megawatts will be licensed.

Members of No Assault & Batteries started the Special Town Meeting by explaining different aspects of the proposed bylaw and their opposition to the potential project. Nina Keller joked that the Licensing Board will be made up of “the bigwigs in our town.” Debbie Lynangale explained members of the citizens’ committee believe the proposed project — including its size — is unsafe and not suited for a town like Wendell.

“We, as a group, encourage … solar installations,” she said, adding that the proposed 105-megawatt battery energy storage system is simply much too large.

Christopher Queen mentioned recent lithium-ion fires in Arizona and Long Island.

Due to the noise disruption to wildlife, the Wendell Conservation Commission has refused to permit the project. In January 2023, however, New Leaf Energy applied to the state Department of Public Utilities for a permit to proceed.

Bill Stubblefield, who holds a doctorate in biology from Harvard University, spoke passionately about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries and his opposition to this small town getting bullied by a corporation.

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“This is a steamroller that’s coming after us,” he said, generating roaring applause. “This is our town. This is our land. This is our future.”

Myron Becker stressed the importance of being in contact with public servants serving the town at the state level, and Selectboard Chair Laurie DiDonato said that has not been a problem.

Residents rejected Edward Hines’ proposed amendment to add the words “current and future projects” to the language. One woman stood up to say she felt that addition was unnecessary.

Finance Committee member Thomas Richardson, who sat at the front of the room with the Selectboard, Moderator Kathleen Nolan and fellow Finance Committee member Al MacIntyre, said he felt it was unwise to adopt a bylaw that is aimed at one particular project. He said energy technology will improve greatly within a handful of years and the town might then decide it wants a battery energy storage system. He said the bylaw, as written, could hamper the town’s ability to ever allow the project. He was the only person to vote against the bylaw.

No Assault & Batteries member Anna Gyorgy previously said New Leaf Energy’s proposed project would disturb 50 acres of forest and clear-cut 11.1 acres to install 25-foot walls and constant air conditioning to protect 786 lithium-ion batteries. One of the bylaw’s regulations requires that the clear-cutting of forest land be limited to less than a half-acre.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.