‘Major accident’ fears over plans to store batteries in East Devon for the National Grid

Fears of fire, toxic fumes and explosions – sparking a ‘major accident’ – have prompted calls to refuse plans to store off-grid energy batteries in East Devon.

Councillors deciding on a controversial plan to store powerful batteries in a Devon field will hear concerns that they could cause a major accident, writes local democracy reporter Guy Henderson.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) planning committee will meet next Tuesday (August 22) to consider the application for a National Grid sub-station on land off Pound Road at Hawkchurch, just outside Axminster.

East Devon

Pound Lane at Hawkchurch, East Devon.
Image: Google Street View.

hawkchucrh

A map shows the location of the proposed storage site.
Image: EDDC.

Large batteries would store power ready for the National Grid to use as required.

The application has already been turned down once due to a lack of information, and has now been re-submitted.

The latest version of Enso Energy’s battery energy storage system (BESS) plan was considered in July, but a decision was deferred again for more talks with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue service about how it would deal with a fire if one breaks out.

Among the documents being considered by the committee is a report from Hawkchurch Parish Council which says the plan should be refused.

The parish council says: “We believe there is a risk of major accident. The risks to the population in the event of a fire, possible explosion, and release of toxic fumes, cannot be overstated.”

Parish councillors say there are safety issues with large scale lithium-ion battery installations. If charging or temperature controls fail or get damaged, they claim, batteries are susceptible to a process called thermal runaway – a fire that generates its own oxygen supply and can’t be extinguished.

The report goes on: “We are seriously concerned about any proposed installation of industrial-scale battery storage solutions.”

The parish councillors quote a report from Northern Ireland’s Health and Safety Executive which says: “An explosion from a single BESS container can cause the partial demolition of a house up to 45 metres away. A hydrogen fluoride plume generated by a fire can cause serious injury up to 45 metres away.”

However, a report from officers to councillors says that while there are objections to the scheme on safety grounds, many of the concerns are either regulated by other bodies or can be addressed by imposing conditions to any planning permission.

Enso Energy has said its facility will meet all legal safety requirements, and details can be addressed by planning stipulations.

Firefighters have no objections, and district council officers are recommending that planning permission should be granted, subject to conditions.

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