BURRILLVILLE – The Pascoag Utility District got a green light from the Burrillville Planning Board this week for a project that will give the company’s system a backup plan for times of peak consumer energy use.
A new battery storage system on Davis Drive will serve as a backup supply for PUD’s roughly 4,800 electric customers, supplementing the current connection operated by National Grid.
“Aside from the economics, the project, in total, is just key for reliability reasons,” explained PUD General Manager Michael Kirkwood, during a public hearing on the project on Monday, June 8.
Kirkwood noted that the main circuit that feeds the system is adequate most of the time – except at peak usage.
“It’s a problem we only have for a few hours a year. It’s usually the hottest two or three days of the summer, when everyone has their ACs on,” he said.
The batteries will be installed by Boston-based New England Battery Storage, and will provide a less costly alternative to rebuilding current circuits. The system will take up 6,640-square-feet of a 2-acre lot at 59 Davis Drive owned by Matrix Properties, LLC.
Kirkwood noted that currently, a National Grid connection feeds the PUD substation near Western Hotel in Nasonville, providing the company’s only connection to the outside world.
“Three to five years ago, we started bumping up against the limits,” he said.
The quasi-municipal utility company commissioned a study by National Grid on how to address the problem two years ago, and was given three potential options.
One, he said, would see both of the current circuits rebuilt along local woods and streets to their headquarters on Pascoag Main Street at a cost of $6 million and the price, they were told, could go up to 200 percent higher.
That amount would decrease if PUD opted to rebuild just one line, but reliability would only be “slightly better,” than the current setup, Kirkwood said.
The third option, which received positive reviews from planners this week, will allow the company to make payments for the backup system over time, creating improvements without translating to a potential high rate increase for customers.
“Economically, this makes absolutely the most sense in the world for PUD,” said Kirkwood, noting that the project also allows for better utilization of the company’s current facilities. “We’re going to expand the substation on our property here so we can take power from both lines simultaneously.”
Jeffrey Perry, president and CEO of New England Battery Storage, said the setup will consist of two containers holding big battery racks, and a master control computer. Additional boxes will hold HVAC units for climate control, converters, transformers and a skid-mounted metering box. Connections will run underground, eliminating the need for overhead lines.
“Everything’s done remotely,” Perry said. “We actually control the power out of Houston, Texas.”
Perry noted that NEBS currently operates two such battery storage systems in New England, including one in Maine. The Burrillville-based battery units will be secured with a locked fence and cameras.
Kirkwood said that the industrial-zoned lot off of Route 100 is well-situated to serve PUD’s energy needs.
“The site is perfect,” he said. “This injects into the system at a prime location.”
Planner Dov Pick expressed concern that abutters may not have attended the hearing because it was held virtually via Zoom.
“I’m a technology person but I think there’s a lot of people who are not,” Pick said, adding, “I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
Planning Director Ray Goff said that the six abutters to the property, including cured meat producer Danielle, Inc., were notified of the meeting, and are all also industrial.
Kirkwood noted that his company also met with officials from the Pascoag Fire District, and they were happy with their planned installation of a fire suppression system.
“Obviously, there’s a clear and decisive need for it, so I’m all for it,” said Planner Leo Felice.
Planners unanimously voted to find the project consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan, and to allow final approval of PUD’s master plan to be handled administratively.