Staten Island residents are concerned as a new lithium-ion battery energy storage system (BESS) is proposed for the residential Travis area on Victory Boulevard.
If developers get the OK to build, the site will occupy approximately eight acres of land on the north side of Victory Boulevard, south of the intersection with Travis Avenue. The site is located near several buildings, including an American Legion Gold Star Post and wetlands. It is also just down the road from P.S. 26 and another elementary school that is currently under construction, and is on the outskirts of a residential area.
Hecate Grid, a developer, owner and operator of utility-scale energy storage projects, is planning the Travis project, which is called Swiftsure BESS.
In a nutshell, a battery energy storage system stores electrical energy for later use. These systems can be used in electricity grids, as well as in electric vehicles and solar power installations.
Lithium-Ion BESS on Staten Island: The Risks
Lithium-ion batteries are currently the main storage technology for large scale plants to help electricity grids ensure a reliable supply of renewable energy, according to National Grid.
But islanders are concerned, as lithium-ion batteries pose many dangers, including fire. When fires from lithium-ion batteries occur, they burn very hot and are difficult for firefighters to extinguish.
Explosions caused by lithium-ion batteries have increased in the city with deadly consequences. From 2021 to 2022, lithium-ion battery fires resulted in 10 deaths and 226 injuries. As of March 2023, lithium-ion battery fires have resulted in two deaths and 40 injuries, according to the city’s website.
“It’s extremely hard for firefighters to put out that type of fire and the air pollution from that type of fire is toxic,” said Veronica Gill Mannarino, who lives in New Springville and often visits her parents in Travis. “Besides the danger to our city and volunteer firefighters, property values will go down.”
Hecate Grid didn’t respond to a request for comment, but information about the project is published on its website.
“Swiftsure will be capable of storing enough energy to power 500,000 homes – more than the total number of residences on Staten Island,” the site notes. “Our project will make sure that New York’s transition to a clean energy future doesn’t leave Staten Islanders behind, and provide the peak energy supply the borough needs to keep the lights on and the ACs running during heat waves.”
NYS Assembly Member Sam Pirozzolo, who represents parts of Richmond County in the 63rd Assembly District, has been meeting with FDNY officials about the proposal. He expressed concern about Hecate Grid and similar developers’ proposals to build BESS sites on Staten Island, or anywhere, as lithium-ion batteries continue to pose serious fire risks, many of which have turned deadly.
“It’s definitely a problem. These companies will tell you, ‘well that’s not the same thing.’ It might not be, but it’s still a lithium-ion battery fire,” the assembly member said.
Pirozzolo also expressed concern about the possibility of pollution from the site going into nearby wetlands while underscoring his concern for the community’s safety.
“There are two types of lithium-ion batteries. Those that are on fire, and those that are not on fire yet,” he said.
The Swiftsure proposal comes as Gov. Kathy Hochul continues her aggressive clean energy plan, which includes off-shore wind energy, that works to expand the state’s renewable energy industry.
Battery energy storage systems are becoming increasingly more common.
“As more battery capacity becomes available to the U.S. grid, battery storage projects are becoming increasingly larger in capacity,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration says on its website. It also says U.S. battery storage capacity will increase significantly by 2025.
Meanwhile, people remained concerned.
“The fact that so many lives are lost and there so many injuries of residents and firefighters from fires caused by lithium-ion batteries inside residences will only mean more fires at the storage site,” John Ricottone, a Brooklyn resident who often commutes to Staten Island, said.
Mannarino, the Staten Islander whose parents live in Travis, reiterated that she is especially concerned for firefighters tasked with putting out fires, including ones caused by lithium-ion batteries and storage.
“It’s not fair that our volunteer firefighters and city firefighters have to take on this risk,” she said.
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