This is a letter to the editor from Citizens For Battery Transparency. The views expressed here are of the letter’s authors.
In a rush for renewable energy, which is understandable considering the pace of global climate change, we must be careful to avoid potentially catastrophic problems. A case in point is the siting of two very large, power plant-size lithium-ion battery energy storage systems (BESS) on the east side of Petaluma. One is proposed for the now-retired Adobe Creek Golf Course, while the other is located on the former Green Strings Organic Farm that abuts the Vallejo Historic Adobe. That puts these mega-scale lithium-ion energy installations very close to residential areas, Casa Grande High School, apartment complexes, a Kaiser Permanente Medical Facility, Route 116 and Hwy 101, a state historic site, and a just few miles from downtown Petaluma.
These BESS projects are not Tesla Powerwall batteries that you might find hanging in your garage but utility mega-scale installations that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. These mega-scale projects are being proposed by Adobe Investments with Bolero Energy Storage, LLC and Borealis ESS, LLC. What Petaluma and the surrounding area must realize is there are a number of serious safety and environmental issues associated with lithium-ion battery storage projects which we need to ask our elected officials to comprehensively address. This rush to build these enormous energy storage facilities in proximity to population centers should be put on hold until siting and safety criteria are established by state, county, and local officials.
Our Group’s primary goal is to make sure that a comprehensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Only then will residents be able to decide whether or not these projects are in their best interests or represent a serious health and safety risk. The projects are currently going through the county permitting process and we are concerned that they are being rushed through this process without public involvement in order to get a Negative Declaration from our County Supervisors to avoid the EIR process.
In the short time mega-scale battery storage technology has been developed and deployed, a number of disturbing safety concerns have arisen, including fires, explosions, and the release of toxic gases. There have been over 40 recent accidents associated with lithium-ion battery facilities in the US alone. Accidents have also been reported in Australia, the UK, Korea, and China. It is important to note that many of these accidents were associated with lithium battery projects smaller than the proposed projects. The proposed AI Bolero BESS facility will have 127 shipping container-sized enclosures holding millions of Li-ion battery cells. The even larger Borealis 300 MW BESS facility will be located not far from the same substation at the intersection of Adobe Road and Frates Road, making the two combined among the 2 or 3 largest lithium-ion energy complexes in the world in the world!
One accident that made headlines occurred at the world’s largest BESS facility located at the PG&E Moss Landing Power Plant in Monterey County. This facility is owned by Vistra Energy. Battery fires occurred there in 2021 and 2022, just 8 months apart. The latter was severe enough to close down Hwy 1. Another battery enclosure fire in Arizona severely injured eight firefighters because these fires can burn without oxygen, making them exceedingly difficult to extinguish. Just recently, a large fire and explosion occurred at a warehouse containing thousands of lithium battery packs in the city of Rouen, France. At least 100 firefighters and 60 fire engines are reported to have been fighting the fire.
Many BESS projects are beginning to come under intense public scrutiny, particularly those that are sited in proximity to residential areas and schools. In fact, two projects in New York State on Staten Island and on Long Island have either been withdrawn or have been placed under a moratorium until appropriate regulations and criteria are developed by regulatory agencies. Once again, these facilities are much smaller than the AI/Bolero and Borealis projects. A groundswell of opposition to the location of similar facilities close to residences and schools is occurring in other states as well.
We urge residents to consider some of the dangers inherent in siting these facilities at the proposed locations:
- The proposed sites are in proximity to one another, less than a quarter mile apart. For all intents and purposes these can be viewed as one of the largest BESS facilities in the world.
- The amount of energy stored in these facilities will be massive and equivalent to almost 2,000 tons of TNT. An accident at either of these facilities, let alone both, could be catastrophic.
- In a thermal runaway event, will firefighters have the training and resources to suppress a difficult-to-extinguish lithium-ion battery fire and prevent a wildfire?
- The proposed sites are 2.5 miles from the Hayward-Rodgers Creek fault. A September 2022 article in the Press Democrat reports that “scientists say it is the Hayward-Rodgers Creek fault line that is most likely to produce a major earthquake in the region in the coming years.” Can these BESS facilities withstand a major earthquake?
- The AI/Bolero site intrudes into the flight path for the Petaluma Municipal Airport.
- The Borealis site is located next to the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park. The Mariano Vallejo Adobe is the largest domestic adobe building remaining in the United States.
Let us be clear. We are not opposed to renewable energy, and in fact, are ardent supporters of economically sound and environmentally compatible renewable energy projects. We are, however, very concerned about the location of these projects. Petaluma has a unique history and culture. It should not become the County’s energy farm at the expense of our safety.
We are calling on our County Supervisor, David Rabbit, to make certain that the County permitting agencies conduct a comprehensive safety and environmental assessment with a comprehensive EIR (Environmental Impact Report) under CEQA. Nothing less can be acceptable. We also need Mayor McDonnell and City Council members to vigorously support our position on this urgent matter.
These projects are simply too powerful, the technology untested for mega-scale application, and the projects too close to our neighborhoods and the Rodgers Creek fault. This new technology already has a highly questionable track record and if we get this wrong a major catastrophe could occur in Petaluma.
Citizens for Battery Transparency
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