Bouldercombe residents told to stay indoors as fire crews take advice from Tesla to allow the fire to burn out, which may take several days
A Tesla battery fire at one of Queensland’s first large-scale battery storage sites could burn for days, as authorities warn nearby residents to stay indoors to avoid hazardous fumes.
Emergency services were called at Bouldercombe, south of Rockhampton, about 7.45pm on Tuesday.
The fire was contained, but crews were advised by Tesla to allow the fire to burn out, prompting a warning to local residents to stay indoors to avoid the hazardous smoke.
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The battery, nicknamed ‘Big Bessie’, is one of 40 lithium Megapack 2.0 units supplied by Tesla on a site privately owned by renewable energy and storage developer Genex. Genex said in a statement that no one was on site at the time of the incident.
When the project first went live in July, the Queensland government spruiked the 50MW/100MWH battery as being able to power 4,000 homes.
“This landmark project signals a monumental shift in Central Queensland’s energy profile as more renewable energy comes into service and work continues to develop the Queensland SuperGrid,” Labor member for Rockhampton Barry O’Rourke said at the time.
Energy minister Mick de Brenni said the battery project signalled “yet another step towards making the Queensland SuperGrid a reality for local communities”.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan was quick to jump on the fire as a reason to discredit renewables, writing online: “A Tesla battery is on fire near Rockhampton and crews have been told not to put it out. Our new energy grid is worse than our old energy grid.”
Federal climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen responded that the “LNP will find any excuse to demonise renewables”.
“A gas bottle caught on fire at a service station in my electorate last week. It set off a series of explosions and a major fire. I don’t remember you drawing a conclusion about energy safety from that?” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
The cause of the fire is being investigated, and Genex will seek advice from Tesla to pinpoint any potential cause.
Mahdokht Shaibani, a lecturer in chemical and environmental engineering at RMIT university, said lithium ion batteries could catch fire for a number of reasons, including physical damage, external heat sources or overcharging.
“As far as I’m concerned Tesla has switched to the inherently safer lithium iron phosphate battery cells,” she said.
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“The occurrence of this fire comes as a surprise to me.”
Engineer and professor of future urban mobility at the Swinburne University of Technology, Hussein Dia, has studied the rate of fires in electric vehicles, and found them very rare compared to petrol vehicles.
“With petrol vehicles, you have up to 80 times more fires than in electric vehicles.”
Dia said electric vehicle battery fires could also be difficult to put out and can often be left to burn out for hours or days.
“One fire is too many fires, I totally accept that, but in the scheme of things, they’re still very, very rare and the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
The $60m Bouldercombe facility is the second large-scale energy storage system to be installed in Queensland, and is expected to be fully operational by next month.
Police said the fire did not appear to be suspicious.
Eden Gillespie contributed to this report