Village board discusses safety concerns following battery storage facility fire

Warwick. Although Convergent Energy didn’t appear, the fire chief said he said acted to ensure the safety of people and property within the surrounding area.

| 04 Jul 2023 | 02:02

Community safety concerns were raised during the Warwick Village Board meeting on July 3, as trustees sought to understand the potential for risk to the community following recent fire-related events at Convergent Energy battery storage facilities.

Convergent Energy, who declined an invitation to speak at the meeting due to the ongoing investigation, provided a statement on the storage facility event at Church Street that was read aloud by Mayor Michael Newhard.

In the letter, Convergent Energy, along with Powin, the manufacturer of the battery storage units that are used within the Convergent facilities, expressed their regrets for the event and gratefulness to the Warwick Fire Department and other first responders for their assistance in controlling the incident. Convergent Energy noted the impacted unit was disassembled and removed from the facility, and how similar units will remain disconnected from power as the investigation continues.

While members of the Board expressed frustration at Convergent and Powin for failing to address them in person, they shared their appreciation for Michael Contaxis, Chief of the Warwick Fire Department, for his presence and willingness to share the local response to the events and answer questions.

Contaxis said he was notified of an incident at Convergent Energy’s Church Street location, where investigated the presence of some kind of off gas. He shared that he believes the fire suppressant system was activated and did its job. He noted that while alarms were going off at the facility, they were not connected to local first responders.

Contaxis added how he was asked to assist with a second incident at the Convergent Energy facility on County Route 1A.

At both locations, Contaxis said he acted to ensure the safety of people and property within the surrounding area. At Church Street, this included making sure the area was clear and cutting its power. At County Route 1A, it involved ending school activities and requesting nearby residents to shelter in place with their windows closed.

He shared that while he took action to mitigate the risk to the community, Contaxis had minimal training on the system. He also explained how battery fires cannot be handled with water and needed to burn out on their own, and that the air quality was constantly monitored by Orange County Hazmat experts and determined to be safe. He added that the Warwick Valley Central School District is conducting their own tests of the area near County Route 1A.

“Everybody acted the way we should act together. We wanted something done with [Convergent and Powin] to make sure they are doing their due diligence, and we need to make sure we are doing our due diligence,” said Contaxis, adding that the local fire department is doing its own training because none was provided to them by Powin.

Contaxis clarified that Powin was the manufacturer of the energy storage systems housed in the Convergent Energy facilities in Warwick. This prompted Trustee Thomas McKnight to cite minutes from 2020 that claimed GE (General Electric) was to be the battery supplier. McKnight further questioned how Convergent moved from using a well-established brand like GE to one that is lesser known.

“I don’t have the answers for Powin or Convergent,” said Contaxis. “My job is to protect the community. I don’t get a dime in it. I don’t get paid. These people get paid.”

Newhard said both Convergent sites were deactivated and are operating under minimal power so that information can be obtained from black box systems. However, as Chief Contaxis confirmed, energy remains within the disconnected storage units, and while the risk for future fires is reduced, it is not eliminated.

Trustee Carly Foster raised concerns about the potential risk and called on the Board to demand Convergent address them in person. She also brought up the potential for other hazardous events in the Village and questioned what companies are doing to manage risk to the community.

The next village board meeting is scheduled for July 17, 2023 at Village Hall 77 Main St., beginning at 7:30 p.m.