Activists lobby Healey to halt battery storage systems

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 12-19-2023 3:39 PM

WENDELL — Members of the local citizens’ committee formed in opposition to a battery storage facility proposed for Wendell Depot Road are asking the governor to halt further review, permitting and installation of industrial-scale battery energy storage systems in the state.

No Assault & Batteries has started a six-week petition drive to try to compel Gov. Maura Healey to use her authority to order a freeze on stand-alone battery storage units, particularly the 105-megawatt facility that Lowell-based New Leaf Energy wants to construct in the center of town. The campaign was launched at a meeting the group held at the Wendell Meetinghouse late last week.

“It was really quite good,” committee member Court Dorsey said. “We already have people carrying [the petition] to Leverett, Northfield, Greenfield.”

The petitions cite considerations taken by the governors of New York and California following recent energy storage site fires in those states. Following fires at facilities in Jefferson, Orange, and Suffolk counties this summer, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the creation of a new inter-agency Fire Safety Working Group to ensure the safety and security of energy storage systems across her state.

The back of each petition lists reasons for a freeze, including the fact that the Wendell battery storage project site is 51 acres of forest and wetlands and that the Wendell Conservation Commission denied the project a permit due to the detrimental effects noise would have on wildlife.

New Leaf Energy is a standalone business of Borrego Energy and the Wendell Energy Storage Project has been in development since 2020. According to New Leaf Energy’s project website, it is sited strategically adjacent to existing electrical infrastructure and is an optimal location for new energy infrastructure.

The proposal is to construct a lithium ion battery storage facility at 68 Wendell Depot Road. No Assault & Batteries Committee member Anna Gyorgy previously said the 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. New Leaf Energy’s project website states the total limit of work would be 11.1 acres, with 6.5 acres developed for the battery and step-up infrastructure. However, trees absorb carbon dioxide, regulate the water cycle and protect climate and wildlife habitat.

“For many of us, the main issue was saving the natural environment and the forest, which sequesters carbon,” Gyorgy said on Monday. “After fall, [forests] are the climate solution.”

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She compared this type of energy storage to nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, or the injection of water, sand and chemicals miles into the earth to break up layers of shale, causing oil or gas to be released. She said both of these practices have been proven to be harmful and she believes lithium ion battery storage will be as well.

“I’m sorry we have to spend so much time on it, but I think the outcome will be worth it,” she said of the group’s efforts.

Formed in October, No Assault & Batteries was previously known as the No Assaultin’ Battery Citizens Committee, but the name was changed for simplicity’s sake.

Al Norman, a Greenfield activist and author, said the proposed facility would “have a lot of downsides” and there is no way Wendell can sustain it. He said he is helping to educate the public on this issue and making sure committee members have sound legal advice from lawyers. He and Dorsey said they hope the Wendell Selectboard will act as an intervener in this case.

“It really brings nothing to Wendell,” Norman said of the proposed project, “because the power won’t stay there.”

He also mentioned that the plant, if constructed, would remain there for about 20 years.

Norman, known for his crusades against retail giant Walmart, said New Leaf has “a lot of money to throw around” and the project would exploit the area’s precious natural resources.

“I don’t particularly like big energy companies pushing around small towns,” he said.

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