Residents fuss over BESS

The proposed Hazeldean BESS will have screening trees surrounding the facility. Picture: ENERVEST

Hazeldean residents are putting their emotions aside to dispute Enervest’s proposed battery energy storage station (BESS) with facts and reasoning.

A BESS is comprised of groups of battery modules housed in containers, connected to power conversion systems, which store electrical energy for later use providing backup power to the energy grid.

When residents learned of the project through cold-call door knocks and letter drops, they quickly organised a community forum at Yowie Park in Kilcoy on 26 May ahead of a 31 May community submission deadline to Somerset Regional Council.

On Thursday, 6 June the community held its first working group meeting with Hazeldean resident Dennis Egginton taking on the role of spokesperson.

Mr Egginton said the working group was ‘still early days’, sifting through the development proposal documents to form fact-based responses to council and Enervest.

“It’s been very hard because it’s been thrust down our throats and we haven’t really had time to fully process it,” he said.

Mr Egginton has worked in the gas industry for 16 years in incident investigations, regulatory compliance, process safety and management of change across a large engineering gamut.

While many residents cite concerns over loss of rural amenity and the number of heavy vehicles passing through town, Mr Egginton said the primary concern is the risk of battery fires.

“Should an incident occur, it’s in the Brisbane water supply catchment areas, so even if it’s releasing gases in the air and there’s no liquid release it can turn into an acid, compound and then get into the water that way,” he said.

“Based on what I’ve read, early days, if there is a fire there’s not much the fire department can do.

“They do not douse them with water, they let them burn out and if they burn out chemicals will be released into the atmosphere.

“We’ve got some large water tanks on my property and if an incident happened I’d have to drain them and then I’d have no water at all.”

Mr Egginton said not all residents were against clean energy and recognised the need for renewables projects.

“I’m not against renewables by any means, but it’s a catchphrase at the moment that’s not necessarily true, it’s just a selling point,” he said.

“I pulled the map up of the transmission line they’re connecting to, which connects direct to Tarong Power Station which is a coal-fired power station.

“How does taking coal-fired power off the grid and selling it back to us at a premium price make it renewable?”

Mr Egginton said the general consensus of the community was to cease the development altogether, despite discussions to move the site to the Kilcoy industrial area.

“The consensus is we’re still in a catchment area and a flood area, so the risk would be just as great up there,” he said.

“We’d basically be giving someone else our problem.”

A spokesperson for Enervest said they respected the community’s views and would take the time to fully consider the feedback received.

“This includes working with Seqwater, Emergency Services and the Rural Fire Service to ensure any development prioritises safety, wellbeing, and investment in the local community,” they said.

“The proposed project is still in the very early stages of development, and we will continue to offer the community opportunities to have its say.”

The spokesperson said the site was identified in part due to the ability to largely screen the development from the road, even before any landscaping was planted.

“The site is well positioned to support a reliable energy system, while minimising environmental, visual and other disturbance – including the ability to contain flood water and run-off water separate from the catchment,” they said.

Enervest’s development application and numerous resident responses are currently being collated and considered by Somerset Regional Council.

SRC Planning and Developement director Luke Hannan said council and Enervest would undertake detailed but separate reviews of all the submissions received.

“Council may seek additional information from the developer as part of this review,” Mr Hannan said.

“It is difficult to provide a specific timeframe for the finalisation of the development application given its complexity and that statutory assessment timeframes may be stopped by the developer to provide additional information.”

Mr Egginton said the outrage and emotion from the community was likely due to the short time-frame for residents to consider the proposal.

“This has been in the work for some time,” Mr Egginton said.

“The cultural heritage survey was back in February last year, and that tells me they’ve had this on the drawing board for a little while, and if they had more consultation perhaps people wouldn’t be as scared of it and would be more willing to sit down and discuss it over the table.”