On July 28, 2023, in response to three separate fires at Battery Energy Storage System (“BESS”) locations in New York, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the creation of an inter-agency fire safety working group.  The Fire Safety Working Group, to be comprised of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Office of Fire Prevention and Control, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Public Service, and the Department of State.

The Fire Safety Working Group will conduct a root cause and emergency response analysis to evaluate and identify the cause and effect of the battery storage fires.  Beyond the cause of the fire, the focus will include evaluation of air monitoring results and other potential community impacts.  In addition, on-site inspections of energy storage facilities will be organized to examine the condition of batteries and verify on-site fire suppression equipment and emergency-response plans at operational BESS facilities.

The recommendations developed by the Fire Safety Working Group will be shared with the New York City Fire Department, National Fire Protection Association, International Code Council, the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council and Underwriters Laboratories.

The fires in question occurred between May 31st and July 27th in Suffolk, Orange and Jefferson counties and come at a time when battery storage siting and development is rapidly expanding on Long Island. Growth of these systems is attributable in part to energy storage being identified as a critical component in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.  The Act initially called for 3 GW of storage by 2030, a goal that ultimately increased to 6 GW of storage by 2030, enough to represent 20 percent of the peak electricity load of New York State. News of the fires triggered immediate scrutiny, including editorials calling for local boards to pause and revisit battery storage proposals and battery storage codes pending the results of the Fire Safety Working Group’s investigation.

The model Battery Energy Storage System Law developed by NYSERDA, and adopted almost verbatim by several Towns, includes a number of fire-safety provisions, including development of fire safety compliance plans, emergency operations plans, compliance with fire-related building and electric codes, and specific access parameters for local fire departments.  It will be interesting to follow the recommendations of the Fire Safety Working Group and how they impact local regulation of BESS facilities and the development of energy storage.