ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have questioned the sustainability and efficiency of a £250m biomass power station planned for the Northumberland coastline.
Question marks over the green credentials of the 100-megawatt generating plant, proposed for North Blyth, have been raised in evidence submitted to a Government-appointed planning inspector by Friends of the Earth.
Renewable Energy Sy stems (RES) has applied to the Planning Inspectorate for approval to build the plant at Battleship Wharf on the River Blyth – and a formal examination of the bid is being conducted by planning inspector Robert Upton.
RES says the facility, which will be fuelled by woodchip, pellets or briquettes, will have the capacity to provide the annual energy needs of 170,000 homes.
Now the North Tyneside branch of Friends of the Earth has submitted evidence to the examination which challenges the company’s claims that the plant will be environmentally friendly.
FOTH says the plant fails the sustainability test as it will not be carbon neutral, and will only operate at 30-35% efficiency.
It says heat generated by the biomass burning process will not be recycled, but will be discharged as hot water into the River Blyth, raising the temperature at the outfall by 10%.
The group says it will involve the importation of up to 720,000 tonnes of wood each year, despite growing concerns about unsustainable harvesting of timber in various countries.
And it has raised fears that the plant’s requirement for about 180,000 tonnes of wood a year from the UK will worsen existing supply problems, and potentially cause serious harm for other major users of wood, such as the 550-job Egger UK chipboard factory at Hexham.
North Tyneside FOTE chairman, Steve Manchee, said: “About 20% of RES’s wood requirement will come from UK sources at a time when there is already a significant deficit in supply over demand. That could produce real problems for companies like Egger UK.
“We also believe that because the Blyth plant will not be a combined heat and power facility, it will be hugely inefficient, with waste heat pumped into the Blyth Estuary.
“There are a lot of issues which really do question this technology being green.”
Mr Upton is due to hold final public hearings on the RES application next week, and will make his recommendation to the Secretary of State early next year.
Dozens of people in North Blyth and Cambois are campaigning against the proposal, claiming the power station will be too big and too close to their homes.
A spokesman for RES said the company has undertaken detailed studies into the sustainability of the Blyth plant.
“These studies have taken into account the carbon emissions throughout the fuel supply lifecycle, from growing and harvesting fuel, through its processing and transportation and its eventual use at the power plant.
“The conclusions clearly show that this project is capable of generating much-needed, low carbon, renewable energy in a sustainable way.”
He said if the plant becomes operational, it will be subject to some of the toughest fuel sustainability standards in the world.
“These standards will ensure that biomass power stations in the UK will deliver genuine carbon savings.
“Under these regulations the carbon intensity of biomass plants will be reported on an annual basis, and this information will be publicly available.”