Another ‘Unpredictable’ Fire at a Battery Storage Facility

This past week firefighters extinguished another lithium-ion battery storage fire, this time at the Gateway Energy Storage facility in the Otay Mesa area of San Deigo.  It took over a day to fight the fire that created toxic fumes and endless smoke.  A 600-foot safety barrier was required for more than 22 hours because air monitors showed dangerous levels of hydrogen, a highly flammable gas.

The fire prompted an evacuation warning for surrounding businesses and a shelter-in-place order at the nearby Donovan state prison.  Fire officials were worried that the fire could trigger a chain reaction of fires to the other batteries stored at the facility, and lead to an explosion. 

Because Gateway Energy’s internal fire prevention system failed, large amounts of water were used to contain the fire and keep the batteries cool.  Apparently, the downside of using water is that batteries can violently react to moisture.  The heated batteries evaporate the water, which creates a gas that can be toxic and/or highly flammable.  Knowing that lithium-ion batteries can react to moisture, why is Morro Bay proposed site in a flood zone?

When the Otay Mesa 250-megawatt facility opened in 2020, it was touted to be the “largest battery storage project in the world.”   Here in Morro Bay the proposed Vistra plant will have 600-megawatts of capacity and the facility will encompass 24 acres of battery storage on the 43-acre project site.

Whether you support Lithium-ion Battery Energy Storage Systems is not the issue.  The issue is the location of Vistra’s proposed BESS facility.  Why build the world’s largest battery storage facility in the heart of Morro Bay, on the Embarcadero?  Most BESS facilities are located in industrialized areas that are not surrounded by homes, businesses, and tourism, let alone our pristine coastline.

If a fire broke out at the Vistra plant, how would we even begin to evacuate the waterfront?  Our town already has traffic jams on the Embarcadero when people are trying to leave the Rock on busy weekends.  Imagine students at Morro Bay High School being forced to shelter in place for 12 hours or more.  What type of health hazards are present for our residents and wildlife?

If you feel that Vistra’s proposed battery storage facility is inappropriate for the Embarcadero, I encourage you to write to the Morro Bay City Council and Planning Manager to share your thoughts.

Mimi Black

Morro Bay

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