Express & Star

Extra battery units to be added to storage site despite safety fears

Plans to add more battery units to an energy storage site in the green belt – increasing capacity by almost a third – have been passed by just three councillors in South Staffordshire.

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South Staffordshire

The decision was made despite calls for a new planning application to be put forward because of the size of the proposed capacity increase.

Instead requests were approved on Tuesday to vary conditions of two existing applications which were given the green light by South Staffordshire Council in September.

The plans mean an extra 10 battery units will be added to the site at Penstone Lane, Lower Penn.

The 26 battery units will use a single connection to the Penn substation. Another planned substation is being removed from the proposals, which will enable the extra battery units to be accommodated.

The plans were recommended for approval by council officers ahead of Tuesday’s planning committee meeting.

But residents and Lower Penn Parish Council objected to the proposals and voiced their fears on Tuesday about fire safety risks.

Anglo Renewables director, Duncan Howie, who spoke in favour of the applications at Tuesday’s meeting, said: “Following the grant of the two previous applications at Penn we’ve been working with the electrical board to progress the projects. This process has identified efficiencies which can be achieved and require us to make changes to the existing approvals.

“Essentially, we’re applying to remove a substation and have the two sites connected through only one substation. This has freed up space within the site.

“This space will be used to increase the battery capacity within the same existing footprint. This is an increase from 100 megawatts (MW) to 129 MW across the two applications.

“These amendments offer the following benefits; more battery storage means more renewables can connect to the grid, greater energy security for the nation and reduced overall height profile due to the loss of one of the substations. We need to tackle climate change, we need cheaper power and they provide the energy security this country badly needs.”

But Lower Penn Parish Council member Nigel Cox, who spoke against the plans, said: “This was submitted purposely as separate items to distract and mislead the public from the calculating and cynical primary intent to build an industrial-scale BESS (battery energy storage system) in the leafy village of Lower Penn. If Anglo Renewables’ original intent was to build a facility of this size, why didn’t they come forward with this plan rather than taking it piece by piece?

“It is not a variation, but should be an entirely separate proposal. I urge the committee to reject these proposals and consider a revised major request.”

District ward councillor Dan Kinsey said: “There is a huge increase in the capacity. This will have a likely attendant impact on noise and fire risk.

“There is a bill slowly proceeding through Parliament at the moment which is likely to alter the status of lithium batteries as hazardous or containing hazardous substances. There is considerable local concern of the increased risk and that has not been assuaged thus far.”

Committee member Councillor Christopher Steel proposed the applications be deferred until an updated fire safety system design came forward. But his proposal failed to gain enough support from fellow councillors.

Councillor Robert Reade called for the latest applications to be refused permission because of their effect on the openness of the green belt. There were just two votes in favour of refusal however.

Three committee members voted to approve the applications, with two against. Six members present abstained from voting and there were also a number of councillors absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Lower Penn residents remain concerned about the decision. Speaking afterwards, Robert Leigh said: “Local residents are baffled at how the planning committee have forced through this variation to such a ‘hazardous’ application so feebly and unconvincingly.

“Experts believe an industrial-scale lithium battery storage plant is a great risk to human wellbeing, as well as an immense threat to biodiversity in the Green Belt. A Bill was introduced in Parliament by Wolverhampton-born Conservative MP Maria Miller to classify such plants as hazardous.

“South Staffs councillors, however, are paying lip service to protecting the green belt while asking for votes in the May elections – and then not even turning up for why they’re elected. A large site by any standards, it is thoroughly shocking such a substantive change to any approved planning proposal has been waved through on a 3-2 vote.

“Those who didn’t even turn up should be more than embarrassed. Six abstentions were registered – what kind of nerve do those councillors have to glad-hand residents and then swerve their concerns?

“What are they doing even standing again if they dodge real responsibility? How many other nearby areas in the Green Belt will be next?

“Such a major variation should have been dismissed entirely and a new application scrutinised properly. That it hasn’t has left some people wondering whether it has been bodged.”