Biomass plant proposals

Our campaign against Forth Energy’s proposals for a 130 megawatt biomass power station at Dundee port has been running for more than two years now. It has included protests at the Scottish Parliament, a meeting with the Managing Director of Forth Energy, letters to the media, consultation submissions to the Scottish Government, and a stall in Dundee City Centre.

The latest stage is the further submissions we have made (in November and January) to the Scottish Government during consultation on its proposals for the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) subsidies for renewable energy. Under the current proposals, Forth Energy’s proposed biomass plants at Dundee, Grangemouth and Rosyth could be eligible for over £200 million in subsidies per year provided they achieve a very modest 35% efficiency level. This is only half the 70% efficiency required by the relevant EU Directive. It means that electricity would be produced at very high cost, with 6 out of every 10 trees that are burnt being wasted. This is contrary to the Scottish Government’s own policy statement which favours timber being used for small-scale combined heat and power, or heat-only, plants, using primarily local sources of fuel.

We are currently waiting for Forth Energy to publish an addendum to its application, with the findings from an air quality survey, required by Dundee City Council before it will agree to the project proceeding to the Scottish Government for a decision. Dundee already has some of the worst air pollution problems in Scotland, due to road traffic, and the added pollution from the biomass plant would make this an even worse hazard to the health of local people.

Large-scale production of electricity from whole trees will also lead to higher CO2 emissions – the very problem which the ROCs system is intended to tackle. Burning trees leads to an immediate emission of CO2, even more than is produced by coal, and this “carbon debt” takes decades to be re-absorbed by growth of new trees (and that’s if they are replanted). So, during the critical years up to 2050, when Scotland has set challenging targets for reducing emissions, we will actually be increasing them if these polluting power stations are built.

The other big problem is that Forth Energy doesn’t yet know where the trees will come from, even though it intends to buy them from “sustainable sources”. In fact, even if they do so, the knock-on effects on land-use and timber production around the world will be devastating. A million tonnes of trees per year will be needed just for the Dundee power plant, with the same again for Rosyth, and more for Grangemouth. At the same time, biomass projects in England and Wales, and European countries, will push up global demand for timber even more. It is inevitable that biodiverse forests will be cleared, and people pushed off their traditional lands in marginal areas, to make way for single-species plantations that can produce timber to meet this demand. World food prices will be pushed up. It’s already happened with the dash for biofuels stimulated by the EU policy that all vehicle fuel must contain a proportion of biofuel.