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Geelong’s Tesla Big Battery fire burns over weekend

A fire at French renewable energy giant Neoen’s Victorian Big Battery at Geelong continued to burn into Sunday, with fire crews awaiting experts from Tesla to assist in opening the Megapack battery that first caught ablaze.

The fire started at the partly federally funded 300-megawatt Tesla Megapack battery project at Moorabool on Friday morning. Fire crews quickly containing the blaze but were unable to extinguish it completely to determine what started it.

A Country Fire Authority spokesperson said the fire had been contained to two battery packs, but sparks flared up every so often, re-igniting the blaze. Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

By Sunday afternoon, the fire had mostly subsided and fire crews were performing atmospheric monitoring and checking to see how active the fire was behind each of the doors that contain a 13-tonne lithium battery inside a shipping container.

Following a toxic air warning for the region on Friday and Saturday, Neoen confirmed on Sunday the air quality in the local community has returned to normal.

“As previously advised, there were no injuries, the site was disconnected from the grid and there has been no impact to electricity supply,” said Louis de Sambucy, managing director of Neoen Australia.

“Investigation preparations are under way and physical inspections will commence once the CFA have completed their procedures.”

The Australian Energy Market operator re-confirmed the site was isolated from the power grid and no power outages had been recorded in the area.

The incident has the potential to reignite the climate wars that pit supporters of renewable energy – including big batteries that are installed in the grid to store excess wind and solar energy for later reuse when supply falls short – and supporters of fossil fuel generation including members of the federal government.

But supporters of new technology in the government played down the incident.

“Like with all new technologies, there is going to be testing and false starts, that’s just part of developing new science,” Senator Andrew Bragg told The Australian Financial Review on Sunday.

“An event like this won’t change the fundamental course of the country, which is moving steadily towards renewable energy use, and battery storage will be critical to that future.”

The Tesla battery is expected to become the largest in the southern hemisphere, capable of discharging 450 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity, as part of a Victorian government push to transition to renewable energy.

Electricity utilities are increasingly turning to larger batteries to stabilise the grid as Australia experiences a rapid influx of renewable energy and coal and gas generation become less economical and retreat from the market.

The federal government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation this year committed $160 million in debt financing for the Victorian Big Battery project, which is expected to cut annual energy costs for the most intensive industrial users by up to $1 million.

Source: Financial Review