Traveller community objects to major battery energy storage system next their homes

A traveller community has urged Wakefield Council to reject plans to build one of the UK’s largest battery energy storage plants next to their homes.

Wakefield and District Travellers Association say it would be like living next to a “ticking time bomb” if the scheme at Heath Common is approved. Harmony Energy want to build the battery energy storage system (BESS) on farmland next to the traveller site.

If approved, 72 containers storing lithium ion batteries could be installed on greenbelt farmland. Fire chiefs have raised concerns for public safety if there was an explosion at the site. Concerns around fire safety stems from the lithium within the batteries, which can cause an explosion when it overheats.

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In September 2020, a fire at a BESS site in Liverpool took 59 hours to extinguish. Harmony Energy said it has an “impeccable” safety record and has operated 14 sites across the UK with an incident. Letters from 35 families based at the Heath Common site have been handed to the council.

Residents have started a campaign to stop an energy story facility being built on farmland close to Heath village, in Wakefield.Residents have started a campaign to stop an energy story facility being built on farmland close to Heath village, in Wakefield.
Residents have started a campaign to stop an energy story facility being built on farmland close to Heath village, in Wakefield.

The site was established in 1961 and is one of the oldest traveller sites in West Yorkshire.

Annemarie Nicholson, who represents Wakefield and District Travellers Association, said: “If this plan goes ahead, this will be a ticking time bomb for all the residents living here. The thought of this proposed plan is having a huge impact on people’s mental health.

“Everyone we spoke to was worried about their health and safety if the batteries catch fire, which happened in Liverpool and at a number of locations around the world, and worried about living with the constant noise from the site and the impact it will have on their day-to-day lives.”

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Last year, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority said up to 5.5m litres of water could be needed if there was an explosion at the site. The authority also warned of other potential public dangers including contamination of the local water supply.

Wakefield district MPs Simon Lightwood, Yvette Cooper, Jon Trickett and Andrea Jenkins have all objected to the plan alongside district and parish councillors. The I Love Heath Common protest group was set up in opposition to the scheme when it was submitted in July 2022.

More than 1,400 residents have signed a petition opposing the scheme.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Harmony Energy insists that this plan is renewable and will help this country achieve its net zero ambitions. But there is nothing renewable about this plan.

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“It is an industrial unit that will plug into the nearby sub-station meaning whatever energy it stores, will always be a partial mix of fossil fuel and other energy sources from the national grid. It is a profit-making enterprise that takes energy from the national grid at times of low cost and sells it back at a higher price.

“There is no harmony in this plan for anyone or anything, not the environment, not the heritage, nor local people, just its investors.”

Battery storage facilities take in power from renewable energy sources and then release it back onto the National Grid when demand is high.

Harmony said the company regularly hosts fire services to learn about the technology it uses and what measures to undertake in the event of an emergency.

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A spokesman said its systems are “extremely safe” and tested using international safety standards.

The spokesperson said: “Our health and safety track record is impeccable, and we have not had one incident on any one of our sites. Battery management systems actively monitor the batteries 24/7 and will isolate and shut the system down before a risk of thermal runaway occurs.

“Contrary to concerns raised, the development footprint has been reduced in size and moved further away from the closest neighbours. Schemes would not be financeable or insurable if they were deemed to be a significant risk, and there are at least 130 utility scale battery systems operating safely in the UK and many thousands more across the globe

“Battery energy storage is and will continue to play a significant role in helping the UK achieve its net zero targets, but we need to deploy multiple more sites to reach our national goals. Reducing CO2 emissions is not the only important aspect of battery energy storage; it also strengthens our nation’s energy security, reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and foreign imports, and makes energy bills more affordable for all.”

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