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Report Provides Overview of Planning, Zoning Issues for Battery Storage Facilities

A new report from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory provides an overview of battery energy storage systems from a land use perspective and describes the implications for zoning and project permitting.

The aim of the report, Energy Storage in Local Zoning Ordinances, is to inform land use decisions for energy storage projects by equipping planning officials with information about these technologies and knowledge of what questions to ask during review processes, so that energy storage projects can move forward in ways that will benefit electric systems while not unduly affecting host communities. 

The report also includes an analysis of current energy storage zoning standards adopted by local jurisdictions.

In recent years, many battery storage devices have been installed to offset the variable output of solar power facilities, especially to provide power quickly around sunset when solar power declines and electric demand typically increases.

To date, 10 states have adopted legislation or executive actions requiring electric utilities to install certain amounts of energy storage, according to the report. In addition, some electric utilities have increased investments in energy storage independently of any state policy. The report noted that about 24 percent of all battery energy storage in the United States has been installed in Texas, which has no energy storage incentives or policies in place.

The report also noted that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 provided $200 million in federal funding for battery manufacturing facilities in the U.S., while the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 created tax incentives for both battery manufacturers and battery purchasers.

Those factors have brought about the rapid growth of energy storage. At the end of 2020, there were about 1,500 megawatts of battery energy storage installed on the U.S. grid.

That number more than tripled in 2021, nearly doubled in 2022, and is expected to double again in 2023, according the Energy Information Administration, which forecasts that by the end of 2023 there will be more than 18,000 MW of battery storage on the grid, an 18-fold increase in four years, with contracts already in place for more than 13,000 MW more energy storage coming in 2024.

The rapid growth of energy storage has also created challenges for local planning and zoning officials who are frequently tasked with deciding where energy storage assets may be sited and how their impacts on the community may be mitigated, PNNL said.

And, because battery energy storage is a new technology, those planners may lack the necessary information and familiarity to respond to proposed battery systems in their jurisdiction, the PNNL researchers said.

The PNNL report acknowledged that the safety of a battery installation is high on the list of concerns for both local authorities and developers, but noted that while battery fires tend to be high-profile events, they are relatively rare when compared to the number of installations.

According to the Electric Power Research Institute database of fires involving grid-connected battery energy storage systems, there were 14 fire incidents in the U.S. in a fleet that has 491 utility-scale projects as of April 2023 for a fire incidence rate of about 2.9 percent.

While adoption and enforcement of fire codes and standards is generally done at the state level, so that many local planners may have limited or no authority to enforce them, a working knowledge of codes and standards can serve planners in developing an understanding of industry best practices for the safe installation and operation of energy storage systems, the report said.

While safety is frequently the most pressing concern in local zoning proceedings for energy storage projects, there are several other potential community impacts that local planners may have to address, such as sound, odor and emissions, visual impact, and environmental impacts, the report’s authors said. Drawing on case studies from various jurisdictions, the report gives and overview of how planners are mitigating those impacts.

Overall, energy storage technologies offer “significant potential to make the electric grid more clean, flexible, and reliable,” the report concluded adding, however, storage installations pose unique risks for communities and local planning and zoning officials.

While implementation of the relevant codes and standards is in many cases beyond the authority of local planning and zoning officials, a working knowledge of those codes and standards can help planners know what questions to ask during the review process, the report’s authors said.

“By identifying the potential risks of battery energy storage and how those risks have been addressed in fire and electric codes as well as local zoning ordinances from around the country, this work may be useful to local planning and zoning officials who are tasked with responding to a proposed battery storage project in their jurisdiction in crafting project conditions and zoning ordinances that will enable the growth of these beneficial technologies while mitigating their risks to local residents,” the report’s authors concluded.

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