New York governor Kathy Hochul launched a special taskforce to investigate the safety of battery energy storage facilities after a third blaze in the state this year left residents warned to stay indoors.
Hochul announced the creation of the Fire Safety Working Group and immediate inspections of storage sites in the state after a battery fire at a solar farm sent potentially toxic smoke billowing across the area late last week.
The stay-at-home order was lifted some hours later after local authorities and emergency services – including a hazmat team – had confirmed there was no indication of toxic chemicals either in the air or in groundwater.
Hochul on Friday was among those to urge local residents to “protect themselves and their families” from exposure to smoke or other toxins following the “large battery fire” in Jefferson County, which borders Canada.
Hochul said the latest blaze followed others in Orange and Suffolk counties, prompting her to set up the taskforce “to mobilise the personnel and resources necessary to keep New Yorkers safe”.
Video of the Jefferson County solar farm showed flames and smoke billowing from the facility, which reportedly has four lithium battery storage trailers.
“Mechanical equipment which supports the operation of the solar project malfunctioned, causing a fire,” according to local officials.
The operator of the facility, Convergent Energy and Power, issued a statement quoted in local media apologising for the fire.
“When we install battery storage systems, we partner with reputable third-party manufacturers who provide the systems, including the batteries that are inside them,” said Convergent. It continued that it was the manufacturers who “ensure that their products satisfy highest-level safety standards” set by an independent agency, “including fire containment and fire suppression capabilities”.
Convergent has previously partnered with GE Renewable Energy to supply 100MWh of battery capacity in California to support renewable energy generation.
Fires at lithium-ion battery facilities have long been a spectre that has haunted the renewables industry. Last year, a fire broke out at a Telsa battery unit in California. Another fire broke out at a 20MW battery facility operated by Danish renewables giant Orsted in Liverpool, UK, in 2019. That same year, four US firefighters were seriously injured by an explosion at a 2.16 MWh battery storage system in Arizona.
Battery fires are most commonly caused by thermal runaway, when a battery’s temperature increases, leading to cell short-circuiting or disintegration. Thermal runaway can be caused by factors including mechanical damage, poor air conditioning and electrical issues such as overcharging.
A new generation of zinc-ion batteries has been touted as a potential remedy to the deficiencies of their lithium counterparts. Zinc batteries are fireproof as they do not require heating or cooling, while developers have also claimed they will be cheaper and longer-lasting.