Big batteries to store renewable energy create fire hazard

Big batteries to store renewable energy create fire hazard

As Illinois pushes for more renewable energy, it comes with a fire hazard risk at battery storage centers. A battery storage facility explosion in Arizona hurt eight firefighters. There have been three other fires.

The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow, so Illinois’ push for renewable energy means communities need a way to store electricity.

Big battery storage systems are a solution, but they have the potential to catch fire or explode. It’s happened three times in Arizona, with one incident injuring eight firefighters, and another time in California that forced residents to shelter in place for 12 hours.

Now Morton, Illinois, to the east of Peoria, unanimously denied a request for one of the battery storage systems at the latest Village meeting. Giant wind turbines dot the landscape near the village and across much of central Illinois.

“I don’t want to give the perception that there isn’t a concern because there certainly is,” Morton Fire Chief Joe Kelley told the village plan commission, which recommended against the facility 3-2. “But from what I researched this isn’t the Three-Mile Island level concern, either, where we would expect there to be this horrific disaster that made us evacuate our town.”

In April 2019, an energy storage facility caught fire after a battery explosion that injured eight firefighters in Arizona. As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided money to research ways to keep firefighters safe during energy storage fires.

Arizona also saw similar fires in 2012 and 2022.

In September 2022, a battery storage facility in Moss Landing, California, started a fire which resulted in a shelter-in-place advisory for 12 hours.

On Jan. 24, 2023, Santa Fe, New Mexico, residents took out an op-ed in the local paper expressing their fears about a potential battery storage facility near their homes.

Kelly said the greatest risk is to those putting out fires.

“The potential danger is more in the immediate area of the facility and particularly to first responders. There have been several examples of fire and off-gassing incidents related to lithium-ion batteries,” Kelley said.

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, introduced House Bill 4412, which gives local governments less authority over renewable energy sites. The bill also prevents wind turbines from casting a shadow on neighbors’ homes.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill on Jan. 27. Pritzker promised in August he’d never sign a bill restricting local control on renewable energy sites.

In protest to Koehler’s now law, state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Champaign, filed a bill requiring Chicago to convert Millennium Park into a solar energy facility and place a wind turbine on the bean exhibit.

The owners of the proposed energy storage facility in Morton, East Point Energy, did not respond to requests for comment.

During the past five years, solar power installations in Illinois are up more than 2,000%. Illinois also has the fifth-largest wind power capacity in the nation.

Illinois is required by law to generate 25% of all electric sales from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. How to safely store that power will be an ongoing concern.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!