Williamsburg rooftop could become battery storage guinea pig

Landlord wants to install substation atop 49-unit building; tenants aren’t so sure

315 Berry Street in Williamsburg and MicroGrid Networks' Anthony Maselli (Getty, Google Maps, Linkedin)
315 Berry Street in Williamsburg and MicroGrid Networks' Anthony Maselli (Getty, Google Maps, Linkedin)

A Williamsburg apartment building could become the city’s first residential property to host a lithium ion storage battery on its rooftop — much to its tenants’ dismay.

MicroGrid Networks has spent two years trying to put 2.5 megawatts on the roof of 315 Berry Street, the New York Post reported. It has the support of the seven-story, 49-unit building’s landlord, Richard Herbst, though financial terms of their arrangement are unclear.

But the prospect of the 300,000-pound battery bank has sparked fear among residents, who don’t feel confident that the building can support the heavy equipment. The property suffers from cracks and floods, has two dozen open violations and was issued a partial vacate order when a piece of the facade fell into an adjacent community garden, according to the Post.

Still, the FDNY signed off on the idea, acknowledging the difficulty of finding ground-level sites to store batteries, which are seen as critical to the city’s greener future. The Board of Standards and Appeals will review the matter next month and the public will have the opportunity to comment on whether similar initiatives can go citywide.

Some concerns about the battery bank are specific to the building, which is already fragile in the eyes of its residents. Other worries could generate resistance across the city.

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The safety of having lithium ion batteries near peoples’ homes has been questioned after smaller versions of them used to power e-bikes were blamed for a fire that injured 37 people at a Midtown apartment building last month. Some co-ops started banning the vehicles as a safety measure. According to the FDNY, nearly 200 fires this year were started by lithium ion batteries that power e-bikes.

MicroGrid says its lithium ion phosphate batteries do not catch fire. A tenants group at 315 Berry Street isn’t so sure, and is considering bringing in a structural engineer or hiring an attorney to fight back.

Similar battery banks are already installed on the Barclays Center and JFK Airport’s TWA Hotel, according to the Post, as well as behind an East New York mall and housing project.

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— Holden Walter-Warner