The world’s largest battery facility has gone dormant in Moss Landing, with no timetable on return.
When North County Fire District Chief Joel Mendoza received the call around 8pm on Saturday, Sept. 4 about a structure fire inside the Vistra Energy lithium-ion battery storage facility in Moss Landing, he felt a momentary sense of dread.
“When you’re talking about a fire at the largest battery storage facility in the world, you can’t help but think this could be the big one,” Mendoza says. He immediately remembered the 2019 incident in Arizona when a 2-megawatt lithium-ion battery storage facility caught fire and exploded, hospitalizing eight firefighters. Mendoza’s team was responding to a 300-megawatt facility, but he says he drew confidence from knowing his team was well trained for such an incident at Vistra.
Mendoza’s team found no fire, just smoke and drenched batteries from the facility’s fire suppression system. Vistra asked the firefighters to remain on standby, which they did for six days.
Now, only nine months into operation and less than three weeks after Vistra cut the ribbon on an expansion, most of the largest battery storage facility in the world has gone dormant with no timeline for a return. An investigation is underway and details remain vague. Although the company has maintained its intention is to reopen the facility, they have made no guarantees.
“We are confident it is a matter of when, not if, the facility returns to service. However, speed is not our goal here – safety is,” says Meranda Cohn, spokesperson for Texas-based Vistra. “We expect not only to repair the facility and bring it back into operation but also to improve it so this does not reoccur.”
Vistra’s Moss Landing plant houses two battery storage facilities. The incident occurred at the 300-megawatt facility, which opened in December 2020. The separate, 100-megawatt battery storage facility that opened Aug. 19 was unharmed and remains in operation.
Battery storage is one of the largest question marks in the global push toward a carbon-free and renewable energy future. Oil and gas can be captured and stored in physical barrels over long periods of time for future use. If solar and wind power are to be used at nighttime or during windless days, the energy has to be stored in batteries.