Littleton Fire Chief Joseph Mercieri Jr.

Littleton Fire Chief Joseph Mercieri Jr. holds a photo last month purported to be of a fire at a Surprise, Ariz., site containing lithium-ion batteries. In fact, the photo was of 

LITTLETON — The town’s fire chief is raising safety concerns as a Massachusetts company seeks to build the first battery energy-storage facility in New England on Foster Hill Road.

At a packed Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing Tuesday, Littleton Fire Chief Joseph Mercieri, Jr. talked about significant fires in Arizona and Vermont caused this year by lithium-ion batteries. He said Littleton would be hard-pressed to contain such a fire at the proposed facility.

“This is beyond our scope,” he said. “This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.”

Andover-based Litus Energy Storage LLC needs a variance to build before it can obtain a municipal building permit.

According to the application filed by Litus, its battery-energy storage facility would “capture energy produced for use at a later time” in 96 cells of lithium-ion batteries. The facility would be connected to an adjacent Eversource transmission station from which it would draw power to store and through which it would send power into the regional power grid.

Mercieri said that in addition to the tremendous amounts of heat that burning lithium-ion batteries give off, they also release toxic gases. He urged the ZBA to get more information.

Litus representatives said they would bring experts to the Jan. 14 meeting to respond to the concerns raised by Mercieri and others.

Litus representatives told the ZBA Tuesday that while the facility would have no employees, it would pay taxes to the town, although the amount was not immediately known, nor was it known whether Litus might ask for an abatement to get the project off the ground.

Abutters expressed fear that the Litus facility would decrease their property values and in the event of an emergency, they might be unable to evacuate the area or have rescuers reach them.

Arizona Public Service, a generator of solar power, had been storing the electricity it collected in lithium-ion batteries at its McMicken substation in the city of Surprise, some 30 miles northwest of Phoenix, when on April 19 there was a fire and explosion at the facility.

That fire injured four firefighters, Mercieri said, and took three days to put out, even though several very-well equipped fire agencies battled it.

In November, he said the South Burlington, Vt., Fire Department fought a lithium-ion battery fire at the airport there for hours, using 18,000 gallons of water.

The firefighters in Surprise, he noted, had to wear special “proximity suits” to protect themselves from the high heat, which was so hot that it would have caused the turnout gear worn by Littleton firefighters to begin to melt.

The Surprise fire required a lot of resources, he said, “probably more than we have in the North Country.”‘

“Who do you call, when it hits the fan?” Mercieri asked the ZBA rhetorically, and answered, “You call us.” The Littleton Fire Department doesn’t have the technology or knowledge to suppress a lithium-ion battery fire, he said.

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