Huge new energy storage sites across the UK need better regulation to prevent the risk of “toxic” fires, a Conservative former minister has said.
Basingstoke MP Dame Maria Miller urged the Government to bring in new safety requirements for lithium-ion battery storage facilities.
The storage sites are growing in number across the UK, as the country moves towards more renewable forms of energy generation.
The former minister said the Energy Bill currently being considered by MPs was the perfect way to introduce new rules for the mega-battery sites.
But Dame Maria told the Commons the Bill was “silent” on the fire safety risks they pose.
She said: “For the first time the Bill recognises that electricity storage is separate to electricity generation. It is a new sector, because in the past power stations were designed to match consumer demand.
“With around half of our electricity now generated by wind, it is essential to store electricity to help out when the wind isn’t blowing, to put it plainly.
“Over 90% of our UK electricity storage capacity is in lithium-ion batteries. Whilst recognising energy storage, the Bill is silent on the fundamental future of the sector including fire safety.”
She suggested there were “hundreds of new applications coming forward in around 350 constituencies” which would introduce new battery sites, and warned about the fire risks they pose.
Dame Maria said: “Those sorts of fires cannot be put out. They can only be stopped by cooling with large amounts of water over several days.
“This creates toxic fumes and polluted water run-off. Even though the use of batteries for this purpose is relatively new and there are currently 35 in action, we have already had one major fire in Merseyside in 2019 that took 59 hours to put out.”
The Tory MP added: “This new technology is being rolled out at lightning speed with 473 new sites under way, yet there is still no planning guidance for local authorities, no requirement to obtain an environmental permit from the Environment Agency, and no requirement for the fire service to be consulted over designs or locations.
“This Bill must directly address this gap in regulation.”
Dame Maria suggested she would bring forward amendments to the Bill in order to boost the safety of the batteries if the Government did not do so itself.
Energy minister Andrew Bowie suggested the Government would meet with Dame Maria to address her concerns.
He told the Commons: “I was pleased to meet with her recently along with Department for Levelling up, Housing, and Communities colleagues and would like to reassure her that the Government is committed to working with her, the fire services and ministerial colleagues towards a suitable way forward on this important issue which I know many people are concerned about.”