Proposed Raquette Lake microgrid hits local nerve
A clash between residents and those pitching a battery storage facility heightened in Raquette Lake at a public meeting Tuesday. Many seasonal and full-time locals turned out to voice concerns about the environmental impacts of installing and operating the microgrid, which would address frequent power outages but also create the potential risk of fire, they fear.
Following a Long Lake Town Board meeting in April on the proposal, National Grid and the company that is tasked with owning and managing the facility, Rev Renewables, held an informational session Tuesday at Raquette Lake Union Free School. More than 150 people filled the school’s auditorium, some wearing matching shirts with anti-project messages, and around 58 people attended on Zoom.
The microgrid is the outcome of a 2019 call for proposals looking to address regular power outages. According to National Grid’s request for proposals document, the facility is a less costly and complicated alternative to traditional solutions such as building new supply lines. The proposed battery storage facility would include 12 tractor-trailer-sized modules on about 2.4 acres on Antlers Road in the hamlet of Raquette Lake. The estimated cost of the project would be around $50 million.
Jared Paventi, spokesperson for National Grid, said the public’s concerns about fire are appropriate and respected by the utility company, and they are in communication with Rev Renewables about the risks. “What we’ve demanded from our vendor is that they seek out the best fire mitigation practices that are available,” he said.
After their presentation, representatives from National Grid and Rev Renewables took questions for about two hours. Several people at the meeting questioned the location of the microgrid, in the vicinity of the Raquette Lake Girls Camp, which could be impacted should a fire occur. Questioners also brought up effects of floodlights on bird migration and the project contract’s duration.
Since 2010, there have been 83 outages in Raquette Lake with an average duration of 4.9 hours, according to data from National Grid. “If the microgrid and battery system was operational during this time, approximately 50% of outages would have been avoided and the duration of the remaining outages would have been reduced by 60% on average,” Paventi said.
Melissa Wilde, who owns property on Raquette Lake, said she and nonprofit Protect Raquette Lake, which was formed in response to the proposal, plan to hire environmental lawyers and perform their own assessments of the battery site. “We’re going to fight this every way we can,” she said.
A group of people stand outside with signs that say “No lithium battery farm in Raquette Lake.”
Tom McCarthy, director of project development for Rev Renewables, told the Explorer in March that the likelihood of fire is low. The facility will have monitoring systems for smoke, heat and gas. If something is detected at a module, it will shut down, he said.
An emergency response plan will be developed during the construction phase, McCarthy said. At the meeting and in an online petition, opponents of the project have expressed unease about possible evacuations through Antlers Road, where the microgrid would be built.
“I don’t see a scenario where that happens,” McCarthy told the Explorer. “But that’s a call made locally. In this case, this is a very small project.”
Jack Carney, a Long Lake resident, said there is not a straightforward solution, “but they will not get anywhere and they will not put together something that is safe until they listen very intently to what the Raquette Lake people have to say and act on their concerns.”
“Hopefully we can move forward with a greater understanding from all sides as we pursue a solution,” Paventi said.
Amy Clough, a nearby resident and organizer of Protect Raquette Lake, said although the chance of fire is small, the risk of someone losing their home is not worth it. “This is their home, their ancestors’ home,” she said. “They’ve been here for multiple generations and for them to lose a home, even a single home would be absolutely devastating to the community.”
Mike Vogt, senior vice president of development for Rev Renewables, said should the battery storage facility be built, it would be designed with care for neighbors’ safety. “Fire concerns are being addressed through codes, particularly the New York State Fire Code, that is continuously being updated, and it’s one of the most strict in the whole country, that ensures these types of facilities are operated safely and with very, very low chance or risk of a fire occurring,” he said.
Rev Renewables must submit a permit application for the project with the town of Long Lake. As of May 23, an application had not been filed. Vogt said the company will evaluate public comments from the meeting before filing the document.
National Grid proposes a greater investment in Raquette Lake. Parallel to the microgrid proposal, the power provider is applying to the Adirondack Park Agency for a subdivision permit to build a new electrical substation. The current substation in the hamlet is north of State Route 28 at the intersection with Hamilton County Route 2. The two-lot subdivision would allow for a new station on about a third of an acre south of Route 28. The project, according to an APA application description, would also install three new utility poles more than 45 feet high and replace one utility pole.
The proposed substation is not an alternative option for the microgrid, Paventi said, because they serve different functions. The new substation would improve reliability for people by translating energy from the Route 28 line. The location of the current and proposed substations are at the end of the line. Paventi said if there is a fault in Old Forge, for example, everyone further down Route 28 loses service. The microgrid would remedy that by switching on during those outages.
“It’s called a microgrid because it takes those customers on Route 28 and, ensures that electricity is available on both ends of the line as if they were their own smaller power grid,” Paventi said.
Should National Grid receive all the approvals for building the new substation, it would need to switch power off from the old station to the new. Paventi said there would be an outage during the transition. Customers will be notified ahead of time when that would happen. The old substation would then be removed.
A version of this story first appeared on adirondackexplorer.org.