Making Battery Storage Systems Safer, With Mandatory Emergency Response And Safety Plans

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In October, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 38 (“SB 38”), which amends Section 761.3 of the California Public Utilities Code to add safety requirements for battery energy storage projects. The bill is a response to safety concerns about such projects, and in particular, a fire that broke out in September 2022 at the Elkhorn Battery Storage Facility.[1] SB 38 aims to balance the need for battery energy storage—a vital component to the reliability of the electric system and the ability to integrate renewable energy into the grid—and the desire to make battery storage even safer for workers, first responders, and community members.

Battery energy storage systems are already highly regulated under Chapter 12 of the California Fire Code. These regulations set strict standards for installation and operation of such systems, including internal fire detection and suppression systems and require hazard assessments prior to commercial operation. SB 38 goes further and requires every battery energy storage facility in California to have an emergency response and emergency action plan that cover the premises of the facility, consistent with Labor Code Sections 142.3 and 6401 and related regulations, including the regulatory requirements applicable to emergency action plans in Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations. Under SB 38, the owner or operator of the facility must coordinate with local emergency management agencies, unified program agencies, and local first responders to develop the plan and must submit the plan to the county and, if applicable, the city where the facility is located.

Specifically, the emergency response and action plan must:

  • Establish response procedures for an equipment malfunction or failure;
  • Include procedures, established in consultation with local emergency management agencies, that provide for the safety of surrounding residents, neighboring properties, emergency responders; and
  • Establish notification and communication procedures between the battery storage facility and local emergency management agencies.

Additionally, the plan may consider responses to potential offsite impacts such as poor air quality, threats to municipal water supplies, water runoff, and threats to natural waterways. The plan also may include procedures for the local emergency response agency to establish shelter-in-place orders and road closure notifications when appropriate.

Many local authorities already require that battery storage facilities develop an emergency response and action plan, but SB 38 should lead to more uniformity and predictability for such plans. For jurisdictions that lacked similar requirements, however, SB 38 could add delay as these jurisdictions create an administrative process for implementing the new law.

If you have questions regarding how SB 38 will affect your operations, do not hesitate to reach out to any of Cox Castle’s renewable energy experts.

[1] Andy Colthorpe, California introduces fire safety rules around booming battery storage sector, Energy Storage News (Oct. 17, 2023), available at https://www.energy-storage.news/california-introduces-fire-safety-rules-around-booming-battery-storage-sector/

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