Warwick Valley schools holds meeting addressing lithium-ion battery fires

The damaged batteries were removed from the district's transportation center and a second facility on Church Street.

News 12 Staff

Jul 7, 2023, 12:36 AM

Updated 290 days ago

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The Warwick Valley School District held a school board meeting Thursday night to address the two lithium-ion battery fires that occurred last week.
School Superintendent David Leach and the district engineer took questions from the board at the Dorothy Wilson Education Center.
There are at least three independent firms investigating the fires, including one the district hired.
There are still months of investigation ahead, but the district engineer gave the first idea of what may have gone wrong.
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He suspects the housing that protects the batteries failed and moisture got as both fires occurred during storms at two places. One is district-owned land where a fire burned for days and the other had alarms going off at a facility on private property on Church Street.
The system is a modern replacement for power plants that have been criticized for being expensive and using fossil fuels. Their purpose is to help prevent blackouts during periods when residents are using more energy than normal.
The battery manufacturer and system operator have not had issues like this before, but this is a new version of the system known as the Centipede, which was first used in Warwick.
Leach said he sent a strongly worded letter to the company's legal counsel saying they do not want the Centipede anymore.
The reason district property even houses it is because the district leases the land, which could account for millions of dollars.
Leach said the lease went through a stringent approval process.
Everything is offline for now and the district had an expert test to make sure schools are safe, which it intends to bill the energy company for.
Some parents were glad to hear about the testing, but they still have many concerns, particularly people who live even closer to the site than the school.
"Our houses weren't tested. Our grounds weren't tested. My vegetable garden, our blueberry bushes -- none of that's tested. How much of that came onto our food?" asked resident Dawn D'Amico.
Another big theme in the meeting was the board's dissapointment the energy company, Convergent, which denied an invitation to attend at the last minute.
"I let them know I felt they were missing an opportunity in terms of trying to reestablish some trust," Leach said.
The company did submit a letter that Leach read which said it will attend August's meeting to provide "a more substantive update".
The district says the investigation is just getting started.


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