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Fire safety working group to ensure New York energy storage sites are ‘safe and effective’

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New York governor Kathy Hochul has responded to concerns about fire safety at energy storage facilities with a new Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group.

On Friday (28 July) governor announced the formation of the new working group, which will bring together state agencies including the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA), the state’s Department of Public Services (DPS) and others.

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The working group will immediately begin making safety inspections of energy storage sites, while its longer term remit includes creating best practices and addressing risks, as well as putting in place training and plans so that emergency responders know what to do in a fire incident.   

“Following multiple fire safety incidents across New York, I’ve directed State agencies to immediately form the Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group to mobilise the personnel and resources necessary to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said.

“The Working Group will collaborate with first responders and local leaders to identify best practices, address potential risks to public safety, and ensure energy storage sites across New York are safe and effective.”

According to the Governor, the group will call on the expertise of industry and national laboratories for root cause and emergency response analyses, seeking to assess and identify common causes of incidents and look at impacts of BESS fires on air monitoring results.

With New York targeting the installation of 6GW of energy storage by 2030 as it pursues decarbonisation of the electricity sector by 2040, the state has a lot to lose if its buildout of energy storage – already considered lagging behind both its own ambitions and the markets of other leading US states such as California and Texas – is halted further.

A statement acknowledged that fires at energy storage facilities are “exceedingly rare,” but New York has been subjected to three such incidents in the past few months: East Hampton Energy Storage Center (EHESC) on Long Island suffered an “isolated fire” in May, followed in late June by a fire at a site in Warwick, Orange County.

Then, last week battery energy storage system (BESS) equipment at a solar-plus-storage project near the small town of Lyme in the New York village of Chaumont caught fire, leading to a “shelter-in-place” order being issued to residents living within a mile of the site.

One developer, Convergent Energy and Power, was behind two of those three projects, the fire in Warwick, as well as in Chaumont. After the Warwick incident, Convergent Energy and Power highlighted that that installation featured the developer’s first use of the Centipede modular BESS solution made by Powin Energy. After Chaumont, a statement from Convergent Energy and Power carried by local news outlets pointed out that the BESS in that installation came from a different provider, General Electric (GE).

The New York Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group’s remit includes thoroughly investigating those recent fires and conducting a comprehensive safety review, including the response of emergency service, to any battery fire involving cells going into thermal runaway.

The Working Group will create recommendations on energy storage equipment and installations, including reviewing how on-site fire suppression systems are verified and putting adequate plans in place for helping fire crews deal with incidents.

Agencies leading the group alongside NYSERDA are: the New York Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Public Service (DPS) and Department of State (DOS).

Its findings and recommendations will be shared with agencies including the New York City Fire Department, National Fire Protection Association, International Code Council, the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council, and Underwriters Laboratories.

New York City (NYC) already has some of the strictest rules about fire safety for energy storage anywhere in the US, given the city’s densely packed and largely urban population. Recent fire incidents have occurred in more rural areas outside NYC.

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