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Cleve Hill: representation to the Secretary of State

Appeal against the refusal of an application to discharge requirement 3 of The Cleve Hill Solar Park Order 2020

APP/V2255/3343902 - Cleve Hill Solar Park

Submission on behalf of the Faversham Society

Made by Professor Sir David Melville Kt, CBE, FInstP, CPhys, HonDSc, Sen Memb IEEE(USA)

It is important to note from the outset that the proposed 300MWh Battery Energy Storage System at Cleve  Hill is planned, if expanded to its full capacity of 1.4GWh, to be one of the largest in the world. Most other such Grid-Scale BESS are built in remote, often desert, locations well away from human habitation. The Cleve Hill site is uniquely close to local villages, a primary school and the town of Faversham. Given the large number of BESS incidents worldwide there are great concerns locally regarding the safety of the proposed development. Consequently the Battery Safety and Management Plan (BSMP) has been subject to close scrutiny. Along with the Faversham Society and GREAT it has been rejected as unsafe by local residents, five nearby Parish Councils and finally by the Local Planning Authority. Their decision is the subject of this appeal.

In the view of the Faversham Society, the appeal document fails to provide any additional evidence to refute the decision of the Swale Borough Council Planning Committee (“the Committee”) to reject the Battery Safety and Management Plan and should therefore not be allowed. In our view the appeal claims to present evidence to demonstrate that the four grounds for refusal cannot be sustained and then fails to do so.

It is clear that the appeal simply reiterates statements in the BSMP,  all of which were available to the Committee and upon which the Committee based its rejection. Moreover, the appeal continues to rely on the advice of the Council’s consultant (BST&T), a non-scientist, whom we have demonstrated in our previous submission of 23.02.24 to have a serious conflict of interest. His advice is therefore insecure. The appeal also falls back on the views of the Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) who provide opinions which contradict the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) guidelines as well as the advice of Fire and Rescue Services elsewhere in the UK. This renders their advice contestable at best.

In taking this approach the appeal also fails to address and take into account the expert evidence provided by the Faversham Society. In our submissions of 29.09.23 and 24.02.24 (available on the Swale Borough Council Planning Portal) we lay out detailed objections based on the known science and safety aspects of grid-scale Lithium Ferro Phosphate (LFP) BESS. This evidence is based on the expertise of a published scientist in this field, papers published in the scientific literature and the accounts of tens of BESS fire and explosion incidents around the world.

To summarise, in our submissions we laid out nine specific shortcomings in the BSMP which had not been addressed in the Officer’s paper to the Committee. These reasons were frequently mentioned as concerns by Councillors at the Committee meeting. They are:

  1. The need for measures related to the increased risk of explosions for LFP batteries - These batteries pose almost 100% greater explosion risk
  2. The need to seek Hazardous Substances Consent (HSC)
  3. The use of the minimum recommended (6m) container spacing for such a large BESS when there is experience of 23m flames
  4. The potential almost five-fold expansion of the BESS at some unspecified future date to make it one of the largest in the world
  5. The failure to consider lessons from previous world-wide experience of BESS failures as required in the NFCC guidance
  6. Failure to consider the possibility of multiple simultaneous fires
  7. Failure to consider or reference the authoritative independent Atkins report for the Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive on airborne hazards in order to downplay the risk of potentially lethal toxic fumes in favour of their own cursory Hoare Lea analysis – the Atkins report suggests serious health risks in the neighbourhood  in the event of a fire or explosion
  8. A serious undersizing of the amount of fire water potentially required based on actual fire experience elsewhere – 26 times the approved amount was needed to suppress the much smaller 2020 Liverpool BESS fire
  9. Failure to provide full details of the potentially dangerous fire suppression system in the sprinkler system proposed

Notwithstanding the above, taking the Committees’ reasons for rejection in turn, we will now address the claims in the appeal:

Issue 1- Lack of on-site water storage capacity

Large lithium-ion battery fires  have been recorded as requiring very significant quantities of water and can reignite many times after the initial incident. There is a need to provide these large volumes quickly. The rural nature of the Cleve Hill site and the difficult road access implies that enough water is stored in tanks on-site. Many of the BESS fires to date have taken days to bring under control and have used and required vast volumes of water to both cool the containers (rather than try to put the fires out directly) and, where necessary, to contain toxic fumes via fogging. The developers appear to misunderstand this and are relying on the NFCC generic suggestion of a water cooling system capable of delivering 'no less than 1,900 litres per minute for at least two hours' This would deliver a total of only 228,000 litres. They therefore propose a firewater tank of this size. There is limited data on the measurement of water volumes deployed in previous BESS fires. However, there are at least two well-documented incidents which indicate that the requirement is  very much larger and will be needed over many more hours, if not days: The 2017 fire and explosion at Moorabol, Victoria, Australia took 900,000 litres over 6 hours for a 4.25MWh fire, while Drogenbos, Belgium took 1.4million litres for a 1MWh fire These are very small BESS compared to the now proposed 300 MWh Cleve Hill BESS and the larger the BESS, the greater the risk of widespread propagation and the greater the risk of multiple simultaneous fires

Summarising the above experience in terms of the proposed CHSP water tank, Drogenbos (1 MWh) took 4 such tanks, Moorabol (4.25MWh) took 6, suggesting a  significant under sizing of the Cleve Hill storage tank even if a fire is confined to a single container. The Appendix A of the BSMP detailed design drawing is neither detailed nor clear as to how the stored energy is arranged, but from a slightly more detailed diagram in the Hoare Lea report we can surmise that there are 48 containers implying each to be 6.25 MWh. Scaling up the Moorabol data to a 6.25 MWh fire implies close to a need for nine CHSP water tanks, while the Drogenbos data suggests a 37-fold undersizing. 

A well documented 20 MWh Liverpool BESS thermal runaway in September 2020  resulted in fire, explosion and release of toxic gases. It was theoretically protected by a fire suppression system that failed to activate. Once water was applied to the Liverpool BESS, the resulting run-off contained Hydrofluoric Acid (HF), a highly toxic substance which can dissolve concrete and whose fumes can be fatal to life. The incident released a plume of toxic gas. Efforts to douse the thermal runaway were hampered by the lack of available water from the hydrants (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, 2022).  Escalation was narrowly forestalled only by the continuous presence of Merseyside FRS for 56 hours cooling the neighbouring container with uninterrupted hydrant water from urban fire hydrants. At the standard 1,900 litres per minute this implies  a water volume of over 6 million litres.

A planning application for a 50MWh BESS ( Leeds Planning Application, 2023) was withdrawn by the Applicant when Yorkshire Fire and Rescue raised objections. Yorkshire Fire Brigade made a number of important points in their letter to the Planning Authority:  “The risks of vapour cloud, thermal runaway and explosion are unfortunately very real and are becoming more common as we see an increase in the number of BESS installations rise.” They also expressed their opinion that 5.5 million litres of stored water would be required (Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, 2023).

The proposed Cleve Hill BESS is six times larger so the Yorkshire FRS advice completely contradicts the KFRS advice of 228,000 litres of stored water. Hereford and Worcester FRS have given advice similar to that of Yorkshire (c5million litres).

To put the appellant’s claim into context, In a recent Tesla car fire the 0.1MWh BEV battery kept re-igniting, took 4 hours to bring under control and used 30,000 (US) gallons of water [113,562 litres]. So, the volume of water proposed for the Cleve Hill BESS is probably just sufficient for 2 Tesla car fires, but the water would have run out after two hours!

The conclusion from this experience and the counter views of experts who have presented similar arguments at the Cottam and Sunnica examinations (2023) is that the water supply for Cleve Hill is dangerously undersized and the appeal should not be allowed.

Issue 2 - Insufficient access to the battery storage enclosure in the event of a fire;

The NFCC Guidance on site access for FRS  is clear and corresponds to essential advice relating to all significant fire risks.

“At least 2 separate access points to the site to account for opposite wind conditions / direction. - Roads / hard standing capable of accommodating fire service vehicles in all weather conditions. As such there should be no extremes of grade

However the developers claimed they were not able to provide a second site entrance:

 • “As discussed, the site does not allow for two site entrances due to the geography of the land, however the bund wall gives hose laying access to the perimeter of the site, with hydrant access before entering the BESS area.”

Surely this leads to the conclusion that the proposed site  is unsuitable, rather than dangerously ignoring the requirement. This NFCC requirement applies to all BESS installations however small they might be. It is self-evident that it would be essential for one of the largest BESS in the world. The Faversham Society regards it

to be a serious matter that KFRS can waive this requirement and even suggest that as an alternative firefighters unable to gain access to the bund can proceed on foot.

When elsewhere  first responders to BESS fires have been killed or suffered life-limiting injury, we find it incomprehensible that such a suggestion can be put forward for this huge battery compound extending over an area the size of several football fields.

This matter was regarded as a serious issue by Councillors and the Faversham Society fully supports that position.

• Issue 3 - The lack of a detailed emergency evacuation plan;

There is a high level of concern amongst local residents regarding the dangers associated with the potential for a major incident at the BESS given its size and unique proximity to local habitation. This matter is amply dealt with in a submission on behalf of GREAT which the Faversham Society fully endorses.

Evidence demonstrates that lethal concentrations of emissions of the highly toxic Hydrogen Fluoride gas are produced in BESS thermal runaways (Larsson F et al, 2017, Research Gate).

To summarise the appellant’s position, it appears to be based on their own Hoare Lea analysis which suggests a maximum zone of exceedance of 282 metres and concludes that “no nearby occupants or residents are anticipated to be affected in the event of a BESS failure or fire” The nearest habitation is in fact 300m South of the batteries – well within the margin of error of any modelling.

However, from this they argue that there is therefore “no specific need for evacuation from any area other than the Cleve Hill Solar Park site itself.” To clarify: They are arguing from a self-commissioned report based on modelling a two-container fire that however large the fire from a BESS 150 times bigger, there is never going to be a need for emergency evacuation of nearby residents. Hence, based on this flimsy and scientifically dubious evidence the appeal admits that there is no evacuation plan because there is no danger.

The details are inadequate to judge the veracity of the Hoare Lea  work but the fact that it is (a) commissioned by the developers and therefore not independent and (b) wholly inconsistent with reliable literature data on aggregate emissions per unit Wh of energy storage capacity, including published peer-reviewed data. This leads us to conclude  that such a life-threatening decision cannot be based upon such an inadequate analysis.

Alternatively,  with regard to toxic emissions the comprehensive independent Atkins report for the Health and Safety Executive (NI) (Atkins Technical Note TN45, 2021) provides often cited and well established plume dispersal modelling for an example but relevant and rational “reference case” (single container 5 MWh BESS), and provides contours based on the HF concentrations reached at various distances, for concentrations assessed by reputable agencies in the UK and elsewhere corresponding to the following levels:

IDLH = Imminent Danger to Life and Health

AEGL-3 (30 min) = Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (30 minute exposure)

AEGL-3 (10 min) = Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (10 minute exposure)

 SLOT = Specified Level of Toxicity ( used by HSE in relation to Planning advice )

SLOD = Significant Likelihood of Death

 Again this represents rational risk analysis against concentrations known (e.g.) to risk death in highly susceptible people (SLOT) or 50% mortality (SLOD). In the HSE(NI)Atkins illustration, the much more serious  IDLH level of HF is reached 240m downwind of the source, alarmingly sufficiently close to the nearest commercial and residential properties at Crown Cottages (300m) to be of concern. To be clear, whilst the appeal argues zero risk, the authoritative Atkins report says Imminent Danger to Life and Health (IDLH) at similar distances from the BESS. This is a matter of great concern.

The Faversham Society agrees with the Committee’s conclusion that there is a potential risk to nearby populations and that an emergency evacuation plan is required. On this ground the appeal should not be allowed.

• Issue 4 - The lack of a detailed risk assessment.

It is self-evident that such a large, complex, technical project should include a stand-alone Risk Assessment within the BSMP. The Committee quite rightly identified that a Risk Assessment is absent.

The appeal document appears to accept this point by then attempting to argue firstly, and incredulously (3.61), that the “BSMP document itself is a risk assessment” and goes on to suggest where remnants of a Risk Assessment might be found. Some of these are not actually in the BSMP, but rather comments by the consultants BST&T.  Even the KFRS response cited (3.68) refers only to “emergency response protocols”, which although important, by no means amount to a Risk Assessment.

On the ground of the complete lack of a Risk Assessment the appeal should not be allowed.

Conclusion

On each of the issues identified by the Committee in its decision to reject the BSMP, the appeal either fails to provide any convincing evidence or argues that it need not comply. The Faversham Society therefore recommends to the Secretary of State that the appeal be not allowed.

May 27, 2024

May 28, 2024

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