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Stubborn fire destroys battery building at Kahuku wind farm

Crews have been tackling the blaze since early morning

By Rob Shikina


Firefighters are battling a fire at a wind farm in Kahuku that has shut the operation down and appears to have destroyed the facility’s battery building.

The fire started about 4:45 a.m. Wednesday and has been confined to one building, which houses a 15-megawatt battery system for the 30-megawatt wind project.

Honolulu Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said an alarm sensor showed a buildup of heat, and video cameras recorded a fire starting in the battery banks.

The batteries, which smooth out fluctuations in power output caused by changes in wind levels and connect the turbines to the electrical grid, were still burning about 4 p.m. and emitting various chemicals in smoke, which was blowing toward the mountains and not affecting homes, Seelig said.

Firefighters can’t use water because of the voltage in the system and have been using dry chemicals to try to smother the fire. But firefighters don’t have enough chemicals for the size of the fire and are being assisted by the Hawaiian Electric Co., which has a truck that can carry 1,000 pounds of fire-extinguishing dry chemicals.

Seelig said fire personnel are focusing on saving the surrounding buildings because the battery building appears to be collapsing.

“It’s basically going to be considered a total loss,” he said of the battery building.

Kekoa Kaluhiwa, spokesman for First Wind in Hawaii, said the company has idled its 12 turbines, which stand on 575 acres above Kamehameha Highway.

“We have taken the project offline for the time being,” he said. He said the cause was unknown and no one was injured.

The complex is the island’s first large-scale wind farm, developed by Boston-based First Wind with a dozen 2.5-megawatt wind turbines that can produce enough electricity for 7,700 homes.  The three-blade turbines sit on steel towers 260 feet high, with turbine blades reaching 460 feet at their peak. 

The 15-megawatt battery energy storage system was designed by Xtreme Power Inc. of Kyle, Texas.

First Wind began selling electricity to HECO in March 2011.

Darren Pai, HECO spokesman, said the fire is not affecting HECO customers.

“We have sufficient generating capacity to meet our customers’ needs,” he said.

The Kahuku project’s 30-megawatt output is a small part of HECO’s islandwide peak load of about 1,250 megawatts.

It’s not the first fire at the fledgling wind farm.

In April 2011, a month after operations began, firefighters put out a small fire in the battery room. 

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dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
Hey, isn't wind power the answer rail zealots use when questioned about the rail saving energy? I wonder what would happen if the power went down?
on August 1,2012 | 05:21PM
1local wrote:
how come no fire suppression equipment in the battery room? big waste of money - might as well take the insurance money and shut it down...
on August 1,2012 | 08:53PM
Highinthesierras wrote:
This was a mistake from the get go. Wind is too expensive, and now this.
on August 1,2012 | 05:40PM
surfergirl808 wrote:
This happened in the same building shortly after the wind farm went on line. A fire in the battery house then as well took it off line then. Odd that isn't mentioned in this article.
on August 1,2012 | 05:42PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
Sort of like rushing into ethanol. When are we going to repeal that boondogle.
on August 1,2012 | 06:29PM
4EwaLocal wrote:
Wind power is touted as the safe and clean method for generating electricity. Look at the reality. A chemical fire now pollutes our environment with poisonous smoke. In addition, careful research will quickly show that wind derived energy is not a cost-effective form of energy. It cannot compete without taxpayer (sometimes referred to as government) subsidies. It is not safe, as confirmed by this fire, and it is also an awful eyesore. Ask anyone who has driven around the North Shore recently. The beautiful North Shore of Oahu now suffers from these twelve monstrous devices of eye pollution.
on August 1,2012 | 06:51PM
goodday wrote:
Since we use expensive oil in Hawaii, renewable energy can be slipped in without anyone noticing (no effect on our electric bills).
on August 1,2012 | 10:21PM
Sat wrote:
I guess this is what they mean when they use the phrase, "Clean energy" and "Hawaii's Energy Future." In the meantime, we grin and bear as we are forced to accept the ever increasing rise in electricity bills. It's so politic that it's disgusting.
on August 1,2012 | 06:56PM
OB1NONO_ME wrote:
This is the THIRD such fire in the same building. This time it was quite a bit more involved. Apparently, First Wind has yet to solve the problem. The downwind portions of Ko'olauloa - Waile'e, Paumalu, and Pupukea - have been doused with fallout from burning batteries (lead, acid, plastics, and who knows what). Lucky for us in nearby Kahuku, the wind is blowing trades - if Kona - it could be a hazardous situation for all Kahuku including the Community, Hospital and High School. First Wind needs to fix this problem before starting up again.
on August 1,2012 | 07:09PM
CPete wrote:
And they need to hurry up with the fix less the world run out of oil. We MUST get off of our dependency on that thick gooey black stuff no matter how much they make us pay for our electricity.
on August 1,2012 | 07:29PM
onlyaloha wrote:
Insurance will pay, but if you think about it, Hawaii construction makes out right? They get to build a new building. More money to Hawaii?
on August 1,2012 | 09:20PM
sweetness613 wrote:
Rehire the fire watchers that they laid off five months ago that saved this place from burning down numerous of times. To one of the fire watchers my braddah you was right, i will probably be seeing you real soon.
on August 1,2012 | 09:39PM
Rickyboy wrote:
Clean energy ?. Toxic fumes ?. How safe ?.
on August 1,2012 | 10:39PM
tens of millions of $ up in smoke...........bad connection, bad battery, heat build up, wow..........immense, not unbelievable, but when you have capacity like that..............the odds increase for accidents and failures. im sure something good, industry wide, will be made not of because of this fire. not a good way to start out............
on August 2,2012 | 07:46AM
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