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Energy / SIC to offer no objections to battery storage plan but some concerns linger

Lerwick power station is due to cease full operations in 2025.

SHETLAND councillors have offered no objections to a proposed battery storage system in Lerwick, subject to recommended conditions being imposed.

But at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) planning committee on Wednesday North Isles member Robert Thomson said he still had concerns over the project from a fire safety point of view.

Convener Andrea Manson also expressed dissatisfaction over the response given by developer Zenobe to some questions at Wednesday’s meeting.

The SIC is only a formal consultee in the process as the final decision lies with the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit.

Manson said the SIC should mention in its decision to offer no objections that members were not satisfied by responses to questions about what gases would be released in the event of a fire, and the temperature the battery modules would burn at.

Zenobe’s 70MW Lithium Ion phosphate battery storage system would be used to keep the lights on in Shetland if the forthcoming subsea transmission link between the isles and the Scottish mainland had an outage.

Lerwick Power Station would need time to move out of standby mode, and the battery system would help to avoid a blackout in the isles.

It could take around one hour for the power station to be back up and running.

The development, to be contracted out by SSE, is proposed for land opposite Lerwick Power Station, behind the Ocean Kinetics building.

Lerwick Community Council had already objected primarily on fire risk grounds, whilst campaign groups Sustainable Shetland and Save Shetland also wrote letters of objections.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service offered no objections or comment.

Most of the questions from councillors at Wednesday’s meeting related to fire safety.

Zenobe’s James Smith said the risk of fire in the system would be “very, very low”.

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Project development senior associate Jack Hulme added that there would be a range of measures involved in an attempt to mitigate the risk of fire, and also deal with one if it did happen.

This includes appropriate spacing, detection systems and ways of isolating incidents.

Hulme also said if the development gets the go-ahead then a plan would be drawn up with the fire service.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison asked if the local weather and wind have been factored into design consideration.

Hulme responded by saying the three metre spacing was deemed “accurate and adequate” and was more than insurers’ recommendations.

The meeting also heard that the recommended method of dealing with a battery fire is to let it run out, which in this case could take a matter of hours.

Hulme said this is why there are methods in place to isolate a fire to one module.

But under questioning from councillor Thomson the Zenobe team were unable to answer in exact terms what gases could be given off in a fire.

Manson also asked what temperature a battery fire would burn at, with Hulme saying it is likely to be more intense than a normal one.

The Zenobe team also pointed out that there is already a battery system in operation at Lerwick Power Station.

Councillors were also told that in other battery developments in Scotland there are instances where residential properties are much closer what is being proposed in Lerwick.

Town councillor Cecil Smith raised concern about the prospect of there being issues with the time taken to energise Lerwick Power Station from standby mode, and how long the batteries could run for.

He expressed worry about the possible impact for example on healthcare if there were problems.

Hulme said in theory the battery system could run for two hours if Shetland’s energy needs was at full capacity.

Meanwhile SIC planning officer Brett Taylor, recommending that the council offers no objections, said the system would be “vital” in maintaining the security of electric supply for Shetland.

He added that the system would meet all the required safety guidelines.

Given that the development complied with council policy, and that he said he was sufficiently assured that the design takes account of the local wind factor, Sandison moved that the SIC offers no objections subject to recommended conditions being applied.

But Thomson said he would potentially abstain from a decision.

“I think there are sufficient questions still outstanding that makes me uneasy about this,” he said.

Sandison, however, reminded the meeting that it is the Energy Consents Unit that is making a final decision and not the council.

Manson seconded Sandison’s move, highlighting that the SIC was not making the decision and that people can still object to the Energy Consents Unit.

“If they have concerns about the type of gas that’s going to be let loose if anything did happen…then I’m quite sure that they’ll refuse it,” she said.

“If it’s something that is safe to be put amongst residential properties then so be it, but we shall see.”

Manson asked for the committee’s concern about some of the responses to be noted.

The convener also encouraged Zenobe to look into the questions further.

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