By Kevin McSpadden
At DistribuTECH 2022, Mercom Capital Group’s Wendy Prabhu moderated a panel session about energy storage system safety. One of the major discussion points involved the importance of community engagement to ensure that everyone understands the potential hazards of energy storage and how to handle an emergency situation.
According to Ivan Aguilar, Chief Technology Officer at InnovationForce and former Arizona Public Service (APS) department leader, when it comes to safety practices around energy storage systems “It’s easy to get people aligned, but hard to keep people aligned.”
During his time with APS, Aguilar learned the importance of community engagement and alignment the when the McMicken energy storage battery facility in Surprise, Arizona experienced a catastrophic fire. The blast injured four firefighters and resulted in APS shutting down two other facilities. The McMicken incident demonstrates that an unsuitable emergency response could result in substantial property damage and even the loss of human lives if utility field crews, emergency responders, and community leaders don’t understand and appropriately respond in an emergency situation.
“From the early stages of project development, utilities should anticipate holding a lot of safety learnings for their employees and the communities where they operate battery storage projects,” said Aguilar. “Across the energy storage industry, there are numerous use cases of what is likely to occur at an energy storage facility; ensuring these are easily shared is a big part of community and industry involvement. Keeping stakeholders aligned and in the loop with open dialogue is very important as standards continually evolve.”
Chris Ruckman, Vice President of Energy Storage at Burns & McDonnell, agrees and says his team has developed a playbook for local emergency responders so they can understand the technology, safety hazards, and better anticipate how to handle related emergency scenarios.
While education is the primary goal of the playbook, Ruckman also stressed how important it is that utilities establish strong relationships with first responders, elected officials, business leaders, and prominent community leaders. Your first meeting with the fire chief or mayor shouldn’t be in the middle of a catastrophic event. When mutual trust and respect has already been established, the situation can be handled more effectively.
Community engagement can take several forms and doesn’t have to be complicated: providing dinner for firefighters, sponsoring and attending local events, supporting local schools and community sports leagues are good places to start. Working directly with your in-house or external marketing agency is the best way to develop a community engagement playbook that fits the unique needs of any community.
If you’ve considered developing a community engagement playbook but aren’t sure where to begin, contact Mercom Capital Group at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can help you develop a strategy to engage your local community and head off potentially dangerous situations.