KEY decisions on the future of Northumberland’s biggest private sector employer are awaiting new information on Government support for renewable energy generation after 2013.
Rio Tinto Alcan – which employs 630 people at its aluminium smelter and power station in Lynemouth – said last night the future direction of the complex remains uncertain until coalition ministers provide clarification of the way forward.
The company yesterday welcomed a decision made by county council planners which helps pave the way for a £50m project to convert the coal-fired power station to biomass-fuelled generation.
Councillors approved an application for the construction of 10 biomass pellet storage silos, which would handle 75,000 tonnes of fuel and help achieve full biomass generation at the plant by April 2013.
Alcan bosses say that unless the power station goes greener and tackles the problem of carbon emissions it will cease to be economically sustainable.
The company is currently carrying out a review of options for the future of the Lynemouth operation, including its possible closure or sale to new owners. It has been having talks with two potential buyers.
Last night Rio Tinto Alcan corporate affairs director, John McCabe, said: “We welcome the planning committee’s decision to approve the biomass storage facility, as this is an important milestone in the process to convert Lynemouth power station. Northumberland County Council has sent a clear signal of its support to see the existing coal-fired station converted to biomass, providing a long-term future for the plant.
“However, while we await clarification from the Government over the extent to which it is prepared to support ongoing operations at Lynemouth, there remains uncertainty over the future direction of the smelter and power station.
“We hope the Government will clarify matters soon, but the decision to approve the biomass storage facility is a big step in the right direction for the power station.”
The company has been expecting an announcement on the future of Renewables Obligation Certificates, which provide incentives for green electricity generation, since July. An announcement is believed to be imminent and will have a big bearing on biomass generation at Lynemouth after April 2013.
Mr McCabe said: “It is very difficult for us to make a decision on this investment while we don’t know what level of incentive are going to be on offer from that time.”
The company claims that converting the power station to biomass is vital to the future of the complex, whoever ends up owning it.
The planning committee was told by planning officer Joe Nugent that conversion would support the economic viability of the operations at Lynemouth and help protect the workforce’s jobs.