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Go-ahead For Biomass Plant

with 5 comments

A plan to build the world’s largest power station fuelled by biomass – in this case wood chips – has been approved by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The £400m, 350 MW plant was proposed by London-based Prenergy and will be built in Port Talbot in South Wales. It will burn some 3m tons of wood chips annually, which will be shipped in from the USA and Canada. Said Energy Secretary John Hutton:

“This will be the biggest biomass plant in the world, generating enough clean electricity to power half of the homes in Wales. It joins eight major renewables projects already given the green light in the past 12 months alone and is another important step towards the low carbon economy envisaged by the Prime Minister.”

When completed at the turn of the decade, the plant will contribute around 70% of the Welsh Assembly’s 2010 renewable electricity target. It will be able to produce continuous, base-load electricity for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year over its expected 25 year lifespan.

Government News Network press release

Prenergy non-technical summary (2.3 MB PDF)


Written by Pete Smith

November 22, 2007 at 5:28 pm

5 Responses

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  1. As a Canadian environmental journalist I was shocked to see the wood for this is coming from Canada. We have very little sustainable forestry here. Almost all forestry in Canada is massive clear cutting following by tossing seedlings into the left-over mess and hope something grows. And if something grows its a monoculture that very few species can live on.

    What about the CO2 emissions to ship 3 million tons of wood chips across the bloody ocean, not to mention trucking this stuff a 1000 km from remote North to nearest ports?

    Forests are tremendous resource left standing –they make air, clean water, provide habitat and snatch huge volumes of CO2 out of the air.

    This is an environmentally crazy scheme. Someone needs to be a full environmental cost accounting — we used to think biofuels were the greenest thing on the planet too.


    November 23, 2007 at 2:11 am

  2. I agree Stephen. It does seem very odd that a project partly justified in terms of UK energy security will depend on a transatlantic supply chain.

    The Sustainability Review in the Summary document says:
    Domestic sources can only provide 5-10% of the required wood chip, and this would need to be transported 350km by road. The plant will receive most of its fuel from a “variety of overseas markets” delivered by sea direct to the plant.
    The carbon emitted during transport represents between 1.9% and 3.4% of the total carbon being transported.
    The carbon emitted, in grams per tonne per kilometre, is significantly higher for road transport compared to sea transport (31.7 g/tonne-km for road transport compared to 1.45 g/tonne-km for sea transport).

    I agree that they seem to be dismissing the environmental costs of forestry and transport where the wood chip is sourced. They justify the long supply chain because sea transport produces 1/20th of road emissions, giving a break-even distance of 20×350 = 7000km. We need more details of source locations, but it does seem we’re approaching zero net gain territory, even before taking into account road transport emissions in North America.

    I’m sure there are some who will say that forests can be emitters of greenhouse gases such as methane, and their ability to absorb CO2 is over-rated. I’m one of the old school who still thinks we’re better off with healthy, diverse forests than we would be if they were all chopped down.

    Pete Smith

    November 23, 2007 at 9:19 am

  3. For such a big project this one slipped out of the woodwork quietly. Agree with Stephen; this is an ‘environmentally crazy scheme’. Expect more to be announced over the next few years as nations are panicked into bringing forward ‘environmentally friendly’ alternatives to counter high cost fossil fuel options.


    November 23, 2007 at 12:03 pm

  4. Pete, thanks for the details on the CO2 transport. Ships are terrible air polluters — killing 60,000 people a year – they use the nastiest fuels and no pollution regs.

    James Lovelock at recent Royal Society talk said the best thing we could do to slow climate change is stop deforestation. Wrote about on my blog here:

    this is a great site by the way, glad i found it


    November 23, 2007 at 11:57 pm

  5. > this is a great site by the way, glad i found it

    Coming from a fellow ‘environmental journalist’ your praise is much appreciated. Thank you. 🙂


    November 24, 2007 at 10:15 am

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