A fire has erupted in one of the Tesla Megapack battery modules installed at the Bouldercombe big battery in Queensland, which is currently going through its commissioning process.
According to fire brigage and police reports, the fire was first detected at 7.45pm on Tuesday night local time, and remains confined to a single Megapack 2.0 module.
The cause of the fire is not known, but the incident has already re-lit the energy wars between the anti-renewable Coalition and the federal Labor government, as conservatives continue to seize on any opportunity to try and demonise any technology that threatens coal.
Battery project owner Genex Power confirmed in a statement that one of the 40 Tesla Megapack 2.0 battery modules at its Bouldercombe battery project caught fire on Tuesday night.
It described the incident as a “minor fire” and that no water was required to be used on the fire itself, as is protocol with such fires. “No other Megapack modules have been impacted. The fire is currently contained and the site has been disconnected from the grid,” it said.
“Genex is working with Tesla Motors Australia Pty Ltd and Consolidated Power Projects Pty Ltd to investigate the root cause of the incident.”
The 50MW, 100MWh Bouldercombe Battery project – the second big battery in the state after Wandoan – is nearing the end of its commissioning process, and had been operating at near full capacity on Tuesday. It had been scheduled to complete the formal commissioning process by the end of October.
It is not the first fire involving Tesla Megapack modules. Two were destroyed during construction of the 300MW/450MWh Victoria Big Battery in August, 2021 – an incident later blamed on a liquid coolant leak – and another incident occurred in 2022 at the Moss Landing battery in California.
The Tesla Megapacks installed by Genex are the supposedly more fire-resistant lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery cells, after Tesla last year announced a switch away from the earlier version lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide (NMC) batteries.
Genex CEO Craig Francis told RenewEconomy that it was too early to know the cause of the fire, or the impact on the plant. However, as the fire affected only a single unit, he was confident it would not have a major impact on the project.
“Police are assisting the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) with a fire in a battery storage bank at a power sub-station at Bouldercombe near Rockhampton overnight, September 26,” the state police said in an earlier statement.
“The fire is believed to have started in a lithium battery storage unit at 7.45pm, and is currently causing hazardous smoke in the immediate area.
“Police will continue to monitor the situation as there are a large number of batteries on site and there is a possibility the fire may spread to other units, creating a larger hazard.”
Police said nearby residents had been warned to close windows and doors, and it advised those with respiratory conditions to keep their medications close by.
“Work is being done to dowse the surrounding batteries and could continue for several days,” it said. “Initial investigations indicate the fire is non-suspicious.”
In an update posted at 8.20am on Wednesday, the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said the fire is currently contained, but low-lying smoke is expected to persist in the area over the coming hours.
Renewable critics and naysers were quick to seize on the incident.
The virulently pro-coal, anti renewable LNP Senator Matt Canavan posted on Twitter that fire crews have been told not to put it out. (This is standard practice with a lithium fire, as fighting them can actually make them worse, and the burning is usually confined to a single module).
“Our new energy grid is worse than our old energy grid,” Canavan wrote on Twitter/X and Facebook, and renewable critics did the usual pile on, despite the fact that battery storage fires are rare. Fires in fossil fuel facilities – including petrol stations, coal fired power stations and gas facilities – are more common.
Federal energy minister Chris Bowen was quick to respond to Canavan’s post.
“A gas bottle caught on fire at a service station in my electorate last week. It set off a series of explosions and a major fire,” he posted on Twitter/X. “I don’t remember you drawing a conclusion about energy safety from that @mattjcan? The LNP will find any excuse to demonise renewables.”The Hazelwood coalmine in February
Others chimed in, pointing out the massive fires at the Hazelwood brown coal mine, the huge explosion that took out the 420MW Callide coal generator (compared to the 2.5MWh Tesla battery module), and other fires at coal and gas facilities.
“Old enough to remember when the Hazelwood coal mine burnt for 45 days, the new grid is far better than the old one,” Tweeted Robert Smithers.