Residents worry about battery storage plant moving into neighborhood

Mose James IV, who grew up in the Sunrise community in College Park, is fighting against a battery storage facility that is planned for the land behind him where he played as a kid. Photographed on Thursday, April 4, 2024.   (Ben Gray /

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Mose James IV, who grew up in the Sunrise community in College Park, is fighting against a battery storage facility that is planned for the land behind him where he played as a kid. Photographed on Thursday, April 4, 2024.   (Ben Gray /

Residents in College Park and the city of South Fulton have a litany of concerns over the planned $400 million lithium ion battery storage plant planned for a large wooded site near their communities, from safety and impact on property values to how the deal was handled by their local governments.

The 62-acre property owned by NextEra Energy Resources is in College Park, but the site is bordered on three sides by residents of South Fulton. Many are senior citizens who have lived in their homes for decades. For most, the wooded site is an extension of their back yards.

Mose James IV, a father of two, rode his bike through the woods as a child. Trucker Steven Mack lives in the home in which he grew up, overlooking the woods from nearly every angle.

The biggest safety concern, residents say, is the possibility of a fire at the site. Similar facilities owned by other companies have caught fire elsewhere, and have been difficult to extinguish.

“It’s not a matter that we don’t want it for the sake of not wanting it,” said Paul Loveless, 76, who moved into the neighborhood 40 years ago.

Jerry Pennick, 76, who has lived in the community with his wife and son since 1978, said he believes the mostly Black neighborhood has been disregarded by elected officials.

“I don’t know what their motives are but they are not representing us,” Pennick said. “To put that facility right in the middle of a predominantly Black neighborhood where you have a middle school and an elementary school, small businesses, a Black apartment complex, I can only say that its environmental classism.”

A fire last year at an East Hampton, N.Y. plant owned by NextEra was quickly contained by a fire suppression system, a company spokesman told The East Hampton Star. The College Park rezoning ordinance requires NextEra to provide plans for fire and explosion prevention, an emergency operation plan and annual training for College Park and South Fulton public safety personnel and first responders.

Residents, many of whom feel as though they were not given a chance to air concerns about the facility during the rezoning process, still worry that it’s not enough.

“It’s very stressful,” said Connie Patterson, who lives in South Fulton. “My anxiety kicked in so hard when I heard (City Council) brought this back. My husband and I said: ‘Let’s just get the house appraised and at least try to get a good value now before (construction workers) break ground and it’s not worth anything.’

“And then I think, how are we going to get out if that place catches fire?”

Vehicles have one way in and out of the neighborhoods near the project site.

Connie Patterson is with her neighbor Rachel Jinks. Patterson believes NextEra Energy Resources is interested in power lines located on their properties. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Credit Adrianne Murchison

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Credit: Credit Adrianne Murchison

NextEra attorney Harold Buckley has said that the company bought the Welcome All Road site for its high tension power lines, and to be able to store power on the site and send it back to the grid when more power is needed. Finding large swaths of land available for sale with the high tension power lines is “like finding a needle in a hay stack” Buckley told College Park City Council last summer.

Residents say they felt “blindsided” when College Park approved rezoning of the property in March without a public hearing. They believed the rezoning issue was dead after it was rejected by College Park City Council in August 2023. But in March, it was added to a meeting agenda at the last minute and passed without any public discussion.

College Park spokesperson Kameron Preston told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently that the rezoning issue wasn’t on the meeting agenda because of “an oversight.”

College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom has said she believes city council violated state and local zoning laws by approving the measure without sufficient notice, and has said the company’s $1.6 million payment to the city in exchange for the rezoning seems improper. The State Attorney General’s Office is looking into whether College Park’s approval was in compliance with open meetings laws after receiving complaints from residents and Motley Broom.

College Park was on a deadline to receive funds from a Florida-based clean energy company when City Council approved payments totaling $1.6 million and rezoning for the 62-acre battery storage project, according to the city attorney.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

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Credit: Adrianne Murchison

The mayor refused to sign the rezoning ordinance into law because, she said, it was never presented to the public during a regular meeting and it included details that council did not discuss at the time of the vote.

“I do not believe we have complied with the state zoning procedures law or our own zoning ordinances in this situation and I cannot in good faith sign a document that purports that we have,” Motley Broom wrote on her website. Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Roderick Gay signed the ordinance.

Even NextEra officials were caught off-guard by the rezoning approval, according to resident Shelvie High, who has been a liaison between South Fulton neighbors and the company. High talked with NextEra consultant Steve Smith two days after the rezoning was approved, and said Smith told her that they didn’t know it would be voted on that night.

Preston did not answer when asked why the company wasn’t notified that the rezoning was on the agenda.

Cash for support

NextEra Energy Resources produces renewable wind and solar energy, and is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, a $144 billion company that started as Florida Power & Light Company in 1925.

Over the last year, NextEra representatives have held talks with officials in College Park and South Fulton, as well as residents and organizations about the possibility of those cities receiving funds in return for support of the project.

Following the College Park rezoning in March, Smith asked High to talk with her South Fulton neighbors about the company funding a new community nonprofit that would benefit neighborhood parks or homeowners, she said.

“My standing in the community is all I bring to the table,” High said, “(Me and my parents) moved into the house my grandparents lived in 55 years ago.”

Similar to the $1.6 million that NextEra gave to College Park, documents obtained from South Fulton show NextEra planned to commit $1.9 million to that city and local nonprofits last year.

As much as $1.8 million was to go to the city of South Fulton for “city led development” that would benefit the Delano Road community. A total of $50,000 was to be used for repairs at homes on three streets in the area. Another $50,000, the document shows, was to be dedicated to The Crossfire Movement, a nonprofit of Siloam Church International. Emails and phone calls to the church have not been returned.

South Fulton Councilwoman Helen Willis told the AJC that the city has not accepted any funds from NextEra, nor has the South Fulton City Council discussed or voted on the acceptance of money from the Florida-based company.

South Fulton residents living close to the project site are in the city’s District 3, which Willis represents. Last summer, she advised residents to collectively consider negotiating a financial agreement with NextEra to get some community benefit out of the plant, she said.

“What that looks like, I don’t know,” Willis said. “I could not be a part of (the negotiation). For elected officials to be negotiating benefit agreements and then having the potential to turn around and vote on it could be a conflict.”

Steven Mack stands on the property he grew up on in South Fulton. His property is adjacent to NextEra Energy Resources land. Credit Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Credit Adrianne Murchison

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Credit: Credit Adrianne Murchison

NextEra provided a statement saying the company “is committed to positively impacting the communities we’re investing in. As part of this commitment, we work closely with and regularly engage local officials and community members to understand their needs such as job creation, economic growth and tax revenue, and ensure the health and safety of our employees, our neighbors and the public.”

After multiple community visits from NextEra in 2023, Patterson and her husband, Arthur, believe the company wants to obtain the power lines that run on residential properties including theirs, the couple said.

The company has shown interest in a power line that runs from their property to the yard of their 85-year-old neighbor, Rachel Jinks, who lives across the street, Connie Patterson said.

“Melissa Schroeder, the NextEra representative, came out and said: ‘That’s what we want right there, that power pole,’” Patterson said. “The grid (would) connect to that.”

When asked about the statement, Schroeder referred a reporter to the company spokesperson.

Patterson said her family has lived at their South Fulton home since the 1980s, and is concerned about the plant moving in.

“Do we have to lose what we have because of (their) financial gain,” Patterson said. “Us being older people, can we afford to move on our income? We have memories here, generations of family gatherings. This is our history.”

NextEra says the project is a long way from breaking ground and two to three years from completion.

“We take meaningful action to connect with community members and decision-makers. Our goal is to build a project we can all be proud of. We look forward to continuing to work with the communities. Together, we are striving to create a more sustainable future for Georgia,” the NextEra statement said.