The Henderson City Commission’s approval of a zoning ordinance for battery energy storage systems allows the process of locating one here to continue, but it can’t alleviate the complicated process of what might occur down the road.
Just weeks ago, Henderson city officials began crafting a zoning ordinance for battery energy storage systems, which is a large-scale installation for storing energy that local utility officials want to bring here.
Henderson Municipal Power and Light has let out requests for proposals for a battery energy storage system at Substation #7 on South Green Street.
At the Nov. 7 Henderson-Henderson County Joint Planning Commission meeting, the planning commission recommended the approval of the battery energy storage systems zoning ordinance, a plan which includes a required heavy industrial zoning.
A piece of the heavy industrial zoning requirements is a 100-foot distance from an installation on that site to any residential area. HMP&L General Manager Brad Bickett said at that meeting that heavy industrial zoning would all but “derail” the plan to bring a battery energy storage system to Substation #7.
In a phone interview with the Hendersonian days later, Bickett reconsidered, saying a battery energy storage system could work in the Substation #7 parcel because there is enough room to place the installation and still have 100 feet between it and nearby homes.
Bickett has said there wouldn’t be enough room at Substation #7 site to locate a battery installation if a 300-foot setback were in play, which could occur.
A wrinkle in all this is that even if the required zoning for a battery energy storage system is heavy industrial with its 100-foot setback from the front of a residential area, local officials could possibly ask for a condition of a 300-foot distance be put in place, in line with what the International Fire Chiefs recommend.
That means Bickett and HMP&L, after reviewing and awarding contracts for the battery installation, might need to fight that recommendation at the Board of Zoning Adjustments, a body that could impose different distances than what is in the ordinance as a conditional use.
Bickett said the battery energy storage system installation at Substation #7 will save residents $1 million in power costs and meet the energy needs of 12% of Henderson residents. It will also use new technology coming to the forefront to build energy resiliency that would “bridge those times when the wind’s not blowing and the sun’s not shining,” he said.
Henderson City Attorney Dawn Kelsey has said that safety was the main concern as city officials crafted crafting the ordinance. Concern arose after learning that fires, some massive, have occurred at utility-size battery energy storage systems across the country. These are called thermal runaways and are caused when batteries inside the compartments of a storage system overheat.
Chemical reactions within the batteries hasten the blaze, and officials who’ve dealt with these say that spraying with water won’t put out the fire. Experts say that letting the fire burn itself out is the best approach to dealing with it.
City officials considered putting a moratorium on battery energy storage systems until they could get a better handle on all that these installation entail.
“We have had a serious discussion between staff whether we should do a moratorium on these or not,” Kelsey said during the previous planning commission meeting.
All of this is to say that the Board of Commissioners had much to ponder before voting on the zoning ordinance Tuesday night.
The vote came after Henderson Fire Department Chief Josh Dixon said he believed the heavy industrial zoning in the ordinance for these installations was appropriate.
In the end, four of five voted to approve the zoning ordinance.
The lone dissent came from Commissioner Robert Pruitt, who said he couldn’t vote to approve the zoning ordinance without knowing the specific impact a thermal runaway event would have on the people who live nearby. Nor did he know enough about the health impact it could cause to residents who live near an installation for many years, he said.