After Fire, Kahuku Wind Farm Fends Off Safety Concerns
State senators pressed the developers of a North Shore wind farm on Tuesday about the safety of their technology in light of a major fire that destroyed their battery storage facility and sent toxic fumes into the air.
Executives from Boston-based First Wind, the developer of the wind farm, and Austin-based XTreme Power, which built the storage facility, said the August fire at the Kahuku wind farm on Oahu was rare and its cause still under investigation. The wind farm also experienced two previous fires that destroyed inverters after coming online in 2011.
“We believe energy storage is safe and we are learning from this fire,” said Alan Gotcher, president and CEO of Xtreme Power at the hearing attended by Sen. Mike Gabbard and Sen. Clayton Hee. Gotcher said that other than their batteries at the Kahuku wind farm on Oahu, the company’s technology had never caught fire before.
Gotcher also said the fire department could have acted more quickly to put out the blaze. Meantime, lawmakers grilled state health officials for accepting results of the wind farm developers' own tests for chemical pollution after the fire.
The energy industry views advances in battery storage technology as a major factor in allowing more solar and wind energy to be incorporated into the electric grids without causing major system disruptions. Being able to store the energy provides a hedge against sudden gusts of wind or clouds that block the sun. And with Hawaii’s small electric grids — each island has its own independent system — battery storage is seen as particularly important to helping the state achieve its aggressive renewable energy goals.