Planning Board Takes Up Flatiron Battery Energy Storage Project

Representatives from Flatiron Energy presented an overview of their plans for the construction of a battery energy storage structure at 284 Eastern Ave. during Tuesday night’s planning board meeting. The project will require a major site plan review from the planning board, as well as a number of special permit and variance recommendations, including a special permit for a major commercial project. “Flatiron Energy is an energy developer, owner, and operator, so we plan on owning and operating the energy storage systems that we develop,” said Flatiron co-founder and partner Jonathan Poor. The company has offices in Boston, New York City, and Boulder, Colorado and is currently developing energy storage systems in the Greater Boston, Connecticut, and New York City areas. “We develop energy storage projects … in areas that we believe have an opportunity for improvement and that we think are underutilized spaces,” said Poor. “A number of our projects are in industrial areas or at old power plants.” Poor said one of the main goals of the battery energy storage structures is to benefit the environment as well as improve the reliability and resilience of local electrical systems. Over the past year, Poor said Flatiron has been working and meeting with city officials and local organizations to explain the project and get feedback. Flatiron is working with the city and community organizations on both payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and community host agreements. Poor said the community host agreement will focus on providing workforce development and training for local residents in electrical skills, HVAC, and other technical areas. “It is going to be a while before we get into construction,” said Poor. “There is a lot of permitting, engineering, and procurement to get through. We do feel like this is an opportunity for people within Chelsea to get the necessary training and … be able to work on these projects.” Poor said that during the approximately two-year construction of the project, there will be about 100 to 125 workers on site. When the site is up and running, Poor said there will be a much smaller staff needed to monitor and maintain the facility. Flatiron has also been working closely with the fire department about the project to get its feedback on the preliminary design. The property itself is about 3.7 acres and includes Willoughby Street, which Poor said will be the main access point to the project. The property is also adjacent to the Eversource Chelsea electrical substation. Poor said this means Flatiron will be able to use an underground connection to tie into the electrical grid. The proposed building itself would be two stories and will have a number of compartment areas where the batteries will be stored. Outside the building will be energy inverters, transformers, and other infrastructure. Planning Board member Mimi Rancatore did raise some questions about the size of the building being proposed by Flatiron, noting that the technology will change rapidly in the coming decades. “I understand the importance of what it is, but it is a big building and it has not many aesthetics to it,” said Rancatore. “It would be nice, by pushing it back, to have at least some green space on Eastern Ave.” Chelsea resident Tiffany Morreira asked about the economic benefit of the project to the city once it is up and running, noting that there were not be many employees once the construction was completed and that it only added a more industrial look to the area. Poor said the economic benefits to the city included the PILOT of about $1.4 million per year to the city for the life of the project. “We would be one of the largest taxpayers in the city of Chelsea,” said Poor. In addition, the host community agreement would be just under $600,000 per year for job training in the city for the life of the project, Poor said. “I believe the tax revenue for the current owner of the property is about $74,000 per year, so it’s a pretty significant increase for the city,” said Poor. As for the look of the building, Poor noted that the project design is still in the preliminary stages. Planning Board Chair Tuck Willis said the city has hired a consultant to review the Flatiron project, and that the results of that study were expected prior to the board’s July meeting. “It has been suggested that we not vote on this until we get the consultant’s report,” said Willis as the board voted to continue the public hearing until that July meeting.

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