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    Warren supervisors concerned about proposed battery storage site

    September 22, 2023 - Alex Bridges The Northern Virginia Daily


      A power company renewed its pitch to the Warren County Board of Supervisors to build a battery storage system near Front Royal.

      Representatives of American Power Ventures LLC presented a land-use plan for the battery energy storage project. Chief Executive Officer John Seker and Chief Financial Officer Marc Poulson provided an update on the company's proposal.

      Chairwoman Vicky L. Cook, Vice Chairwoman Cheryl L. Cullers and Supervisors Jerome K. "Jay" Butler, Walter J. "Walt" Mabe and Delores R. Oates attended the meeting.

      Battery systems provide power when renewable sources such as wind or solar aren't available, Poulson said. Coal, gas and diesel provide on-demand power but a battery storage system remains the cleanest alternative. A battery system stores and discharges excess renewable energy to the grid if that source is limited or demand is high, Poulson said. A battery storage system creates no carbon footprint, no air emissions, no wastewater and uses no water.

      Oates cited an instance where a similar battery system in New York caught fire, triggering a 24-hour shelter-in-place alert for a nearby residential neighborhood. Oates asked Poulson and Seker if their company owned the battery system or if their systems use the same technology. Poulson noted that a different company owned that battery system and that it used older technology. Batteries must be certified safe before use, Poulson further explained as he tried to allay Oates' fears. She remained skeptical.

      "Tesla cars catch on fire in their garage so that doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence," Oates said.

      In response to questions from Butler, Poulson said batteries are made from rare earth materials largely from South America then manufactured in China. Batteries, once spent, are recycled, Poulson said.

      Cullers asked if the materials used in batteries are carcinogenic, to which Poulson said they are not.

      "So, if that thing were to blow, the water that's needed -- and they can blow up -- so the water that's needed in the close proximity of the (Shenandoah River), if that water migrates down to river, there's no concern of contaminating that water for future water use and the aquatic life," Cullers asked.

      Poulson said the water "should" not leave the site.

      Seker said lithium ion batteries do not contain carcinogens unlike others that need to store and release water in the event they catch fire.

      Cullers voiced skepticism.

      "Yes, but anything can happen when an explosion goes, it goes," Cullers said.

      Cullers asked what the county's fire and rescue workers would need to know if they must respond to an incident at a battery facility. Seker said the company would set up a training program for the first responders. Poulson had said earlier that a firefighter died while responding to a battery fire in Arizona. Sekar explanined that the firefighter did not have proper training, opened the battery facility and let in oxygen, causing it to explode.

      "So now most of these facilities, in fact, maybe all of them, no longer allow you to actually open up the door," Seker said. "So that's why they're self-contained. This is for the protection of first responders."

      Cullers asked if the power from the batteries would benefit the local community.

      "I mean, the grid is like a spiderweb so even when you do grid studies it's very hard to say what's consumed locally and what goes out to the rest of the system," Seker said. "I cannot say as a guarantee that it would be supplying the local system but what happens is the utilities have ways to shut off power at other locations. So if this system was generating here and there was a power failure elsewhere, the system could shut down in other areas but this area could stay running for up to four hours."

      The facility would generate approximately $6 million in tax revenue over 20 years, according to American Power Ventures, or $300,000 per year. The facility has a lifespan of about 35 years, Seker said. County Attorney Jason Ham pointed out that energy storage systems can receive an 80% tax exemption. Seker said the revenue estimate is after the exemption is calculated.

      American Power Ventures presented its proposal to the supervisors in May 2020 outlining its desire to build a $35 million, 20-megawatt battery energy storage system on county-owned land adjacent to the Dominion plant.

      The New Jersey-based company proposed to build the project on 3 acres of a larger parcel owned by the county adjacent to the Dominion power plant. The county and an affiliate of American Power Ventures executed an agreement that gave the company the right to buy the site after the county subdivides the larger parcel.

      After eight months of negotiations, county officials asked American Power Ventures to consider relocating the 3-acre site to the eastern edge of the larger parcel. However, the relocated site would contain 1.5 acres of steep, unusable land. The company proposed to increase the size of the relocated site but county officials wanted to keep the site at 3 acres.

      "We understood part of the reason was maybe a concern about safety and the environment and so forth and so our goal here today was to try to come and to address those issues, hopefully to get you satisfied enough that it will be safe facility, an environmentally sound facility so that we can advance the project with your support," Seker said.

      The U.S. Department of Energy cataloged 739 utility-scale storage systems in the country as of January, and three, older facilities experienced significant fires.

      American Power Ventures estimates a battery system project would create 20-30 jobs during peak construction and take eight to 12 months to build.

      Also at the meeting, supervisors voted to:

      Change the name on a conditional-use permit for a short-term tourist rental from Michael Ney to Stephen Ndegwa. The county issued the permit to Ney on March 15, 2022 for a short-term rental at 207 Riverview Shores Drive in the Shenandoah Shores subdivision. Ney sold the property to Ndegwa in July 2023, who intends to re-establish the use as a short-term tourist rental.

      Approve the Agency Participation Agreement between the county and Bingham Arbitrage Rebate Services Inc. to determine if an arbitrage rebate or yield restriction liability has accrued on the "Town of Front Royal and County of Warren Industrial Development Authority Lease Revenue and Refunding Bond Series 2019."

      Allow the Little Chapel Baptist Church to display the Nativity scene on the county courthouse lawn from Dec. 15 to Jan. 2.

      Authorize a contract with Davenport & Company LLC for municipal financial services on a task-order basis. The Finance and Purchasing Department needs advisers to assist with its debt service, according to county information. The company would reconcile debt service, plan for capital improvement plan projects and update its debt fiscal policy with the Finance/Audit Committee. The county has used Davenport & Company's services since 2003 and, in recent years, for projects such as the Leach Run Parkway, the second middle school, the Health & Human Services Complex and the Rivermont Five Station.

      Appoint John Bert and Frederik van Weezendonk to the Front Royal-Warren County Airport Commission to four-year terms ending June 30, 2027.

      Earlier in the meeting, supervisors met in closed session to discuss the disposition of public property referred to as McKay Springs and to consult with legal counsel about the Samuels Public Library funding agreement.


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