A MULTI-million pound fuel conversion project aimed at safeguarding the future of Northumberland’s biggest private sector employer is set to be given the green light by council planners next week.
Bosses at Rio Tinto Alcan say that unless the 630-job complex at Lynemouth switches from coal-fired to biomass generation for its power needs, it will cease to be economically sustainable.
The company – which is currently carrying out a review of options for the future of the aluminium smelter and power station – says it is vital to move from its traditional power source of coal to more environmentally-friendly biomass to remain viable.
It wants to switch to full biomass generation, an investment estimated to cost £50m, by April 2013.
Next week county councillors are expected to support efforts to safeguard the key employer by approving plans to build 10 biomass pellet storage silos on land next to the Alcan power station.
A report to the planning and environment committee says, in addition to the 630 jobs at Lynemouth, Alcan supports between 2,500 and 3,000 indirect jobs in the wider supply chain. Also, the 12 to 18 month scheme to convert the power station to biomass will create about 250 construction jobs, according to planning officers.
The Journal revealed earlier this week that Rio Tinto Alcan has been holding discussions with two companies interested in buying it out. One of them is interested in the smelter, and the other the power station.
Rio Tinto has previously said it will consider selling up as one of the solutions to the problems caused by a European Court of Justice ruling requiring it to cut emissions, and the Government’s Carbon Floor Price, which ensures the price on carbon does not fall below a set level.
Between them the two rulings will end up costing the company an extra £40m a year by 2013, wiping out its annual profits. It claims that converting the Lynemouth power station to biomass is vital to the future of the complex, whoever ends up owning it.
The report to county councillors next week says approving the biomass storage facility will result in the complete redevelopment of the coal stocking area, and help with the conversion to a new fuel source.
Planning officer, Joe Nugent, says: “The conversion to biomass would support the economic viability of the operations at Lynemouth and would safeguard the continued employment of the workforce.”
He adds that although the conversion is not a scheme which directly produces renewable energy, it is a project able to directly support the generation of energy from renewables and help reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
“The development would support environmental improvements through the reclamation of the existing coal storage and distribution area, and also assist in facilitating the reduction of atmospheric pollution through the use of biomass as the primary fuel at the power station.”
The biomass conversion will mean an extra 72 lorry movements a day in and out of the power station site, but Mr Nugent says there are no objections from county highways officials.
Earlier this week, Alcan’s corporate affairs director, John McCabe, said talks with the potential buyers had been going on for some time, and the workforce was being kept informed.