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Scottish biomass plant approved despite air quality fears

Plans for Scotland’s largest wood-burning energy plant in Grangemouth approved despite fears over air quality

Plans for Scotland’s largest wood-burning biomass plant at the Port of Grangemouth have been approved by the Scottish Government, despite opposition from air quality campaigners.

Artist's impression of the Grangemouth biomass plant

Artist’s impression of the Grangemouth biomass plant

Renewable energy firm Forth Energy was granted planning for the £450 million combined heat and power (CHP) plant yesterday (June 6), subject to environmental and air quality conditions.

The decision follows a public local inquiry held from May 12 to June 1 2012, after which the reporter for the inquiry recommended that consent should be granted to the project.

Local residents and campaigners had objected to the plant, claiming that emissions from the biomass wood-burning process could pose a risk to asthma sufferers in Grangemouth, which has also previously breached national objectives for sulphur dioxide.

An Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) was declared in Grangemouth in 2005 by Falkirk council in recognition of these breaches. However, an environmental statement on the proposed Forth Energy development said that any addition impact on human health from the plant would be ‘insignificant’, despite adding a predicted maximum of 9.2% to the 15-minute mean air quality objective for sulphur dioxide.

A Grangemouth community coalition of campaigners said in its closing submission to the inquiry last year that: “The health impacts of air pollution from this development are not adequately understood. It would seem prudent, precautionary and wise from a public health perspective not to site it within Grangemouth.”

The community coalition included members of Polmont community council, Bo’ness community council, campaign group Biofuelwatch and Friends of the Earth campaigners from Falkirk and Stirling.

Alison Johnstone, Green Scottish Parliament member (MSP) for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, also said the decision was “plain daft”.

She said: “Chopping down swathes of foreign forest to burn in Scotland is plain daft. The Scottish Government has made a poor decision, and should instead be supporting genuinely sustainable heat and power at a local level.

“Forth Energy wisely backed away from a similar proposal at Leith so it’s extremely disappointing they are being allowed to develop further along the coast. The Scottish Government now has zero environmental credibility.”

However, Forth Energy has defended its plans, claiming that the facility has been designed to comply with all UK and EU emissions standards and will be “rigorously” monitored.

A spokeswoman for the firm said: “As part of the application process, Forth Energy carried out detailed assessments which have been agreed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).  The plant will require an operating licence that will be granted by SEPA. To obtain the licence we will have to demonstrate that it will comply with the emission standards set by the EU. During operation, emissions will be rigorously monitored to ensure compliance.”

According to the Scottish Government, the planning consent also includes conditions to “protect the environment and air quality and to keep the community informed about the development”.

Energy minister for the Scottish Government, Fergus Ewing, said: “In consenting this application I have put in place a series of conditions to protect local residents from inconvenience, safeguard the appearance of the area, and protect the environment and air quality. The conditions to the consent also ensure that the fuel used in the biomass is from sustainable and responsible sources.”

Plant

The Grangemouth plant is expected to generate 120MW of electricity for the national grid – enough to power around 130,000 homes – while also supplying local businesses and industry with up to 200MW of heat.

Furthermore, the plant will bring 500 jobs to the area during construction and 70 permanent jobs, according to Forth Energy.

The firm said it would now be engaging with relevant authorities, including the Scottish Government and Falkirk council, in order to “examine the details of the consent granted” and move forward with the development. It is anticipated that the plant will take three years to build following a year’s design and engineering work and could begin generating energy by around 2017.

Forth Energy managing director, Calum Wilson, said: “We share the Scottish Government’s objective of providing renewable, reliable and responsible heat and electricity for Scotland and we are delighted that the ministers have approved this ambitious project.”

Forth Energy is a joint venture between SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) and Edinburgh-based port operator Forth Ports Limited. The firm also has plans for a further two CHP plants in Rosyth and Dundee, which are currently going through the consenting process.

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