Highway 1 reopens near Moss Landing, shelter-in-place lifted after fire at Tesla battery storage facility

Highway 1 had been closed in both directions early Tuesday.|

MOSS LANDING — Monterey County officials announced that the shelter-in-place advisory and all road closures for the Moss Landing fire incident were lifted Tuesday evening.

“While the fire is considered fully controlled, smoke may still occur in the area for several days,” the county media release stated.

Highway 1 had been closed in both directions early Tuesday after a fire was detected at the PG&E Elkhorn Battery Storage facility.

According to Jeff Smith, a spokesman with PG&E, officials became aware of a fire in one Tesla Megapack at PG&E’s Elkhorn Battery Storage facility in Monterey County at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“PG&E is working with firefighters to stop the spread of the fire and provide a safe area for emergency response personnel,” he said via email.

The North County Fire Department and Monterey County Sheriff’s Office had issued a shelter-in-place advisory Tuesday morning for the areas of Moss Landing west of Dolan Road/Via Tanques, South of Struve Road, and North of Potrero Road.

Local residents with valid ID were being allowed through the closure area to return home.

“There is an ongoing hazardous materials incident in Moss Landing. Please shut your windows and turn off your ventilation systems. In the event of changing weather patterns, impacted areas may change,” Monterey County spokeswoman Maia Carroll said in an email.

Capt. John Hasslinger with the North County Fire Protection District said when firefighters arrived at the facility, one of the battery packs was actively burning.

“It was well involved when we arrived,” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve done a lot of training with both PG&E and Vistra, the two companies that have these battery storage facilities here — training before they even built the plant — so we were familiar with the procedures on what to do. When one of these battery packs are actually actively burning, we don’t do direct fire attack on it ... we don’t try to put the fire itself out. We basically protect the exposures around it, protect the other battery packs.”

Hasslinger said firefighters protected the other battery packs and by Tuesday afternoon, most of the smoke from the burning battery had dissipated.

“It was pretty much contained to that battery pack (that was on fire),” he said. “With the work of the firefighters and the actual safety system itself that was designed into the system, it worked the way it was planned to work.”

According to Hasslinger, the shelter-in-place advisory was “mainly due to the smoke” from the fire. He said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials did a spot plume model to forecast where the smoke column would go, which officials used for the advisory.

Kevin Drabinski, a Caltrans spokesman, said the California Highway Patrol reached out to Caltrans early Tuesday morning to set up the closure.

Meranda Cohn, a spokesperson for Vistra, said the company’s power plant in Moss Landing adjacent to the PG&E’s battery facility and substation was not affected by the fire.

“Our equipment is safe and is not impacted,” Cohn said in an email.

Vistra hosts its own energy storage facility at its Moss Landing facility. The batteries put up smoke on Sept. 4, 2021, and again on Feb. 13 of this year.

According to PG&E, there have been no injuries to onsite personnel at the battery storage facility. Smith said safety systems at the facility worked as designed when the issue was detected, and automatically disconnected the battery storage facility from the electrical grid.

“The safety of our customers, employees, contractors and the communities we serve is PG&E’s top priority,” he said, adding that there were no electrical outages for customers due to the incident as of Tuesday morning.

The PG&E Elkhorn Battery Storage facility became fully operational in April. It was designed and it is maintained by both PG&E and Tesla, and is owned and operated by PG&E. It can store and dispatch as much as 730 megawatt-hours of energy to the California power grid at a maximum rate of 182.5 megawatts for up to four hours during periods of high demand. That’s enough to power 225,000 homes in Monterey County.

The closure disrupted the morning commute for many residents in the Monterey Bay area, causing significant delays and traffic jams.

“There are a number of detours available but it impacts those roads as well, they’re not used to taking that overflow,” Drabinski said.

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