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Boston-based wind farm developer faces new challenge as it tries to solve mystery of Hawaii fire

A plume of toxic smoke is one of the last things I would expect to see at a wind farm. Unfortunately for a Boston-based wind farm developer, that’s exactly what neighbors of the Kahuku wind farm in Hawaii got to see after a battery-filled warehouse went up in flames last week.

First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne tells me the company is working with Xtreme Power, the battery manufacturer, to figure out what caused last week’s fire on Oahu’s north shore. No one was injured in the blaze, although the local news media quoted a number of people expressing concerns about the hazardous smoke and the possibility of similar incidents in the future.

Those concerns probably won’t have much of an impact here in New England, because First Wind has no plans to use that technology at its wind farms in this region. Only 5 percent of First Wind’s 980 megawatts of generating capacity, either in operation or under construction, rely on these Xtreme Power batteries, Lamontagne said. The other place the batteries are used is a portion of the Kaheawa wind farm on Maui.

Because of Hawaii’s unique geography, the state has a number of small electrical grids on its islands. Lamontagne says that can make it tough to integrate renewable energy into the grids. In particular, these battery systems are designed to smooth the energy flow following a sudden slowdown in wind.

First Wind has become a major player in Hawaii, with a number of wind farms completed or under way. But this high-profile incident could present a new political challenge for the company as it seeks to continue its expansion in the Aloha State.