PRESS RELEASE – EALING FRIENDS OF THE EARTH & BIOFUELWATCH
30 June 2010
Southall Biofuel Power Station Plans Rejected
Environmental campaigners in London and across the UK welcomed today’s decision by Communities & Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP, to turn down plans for Blue NG’s biofuel power station in Southall.
Permission for the power station was initially refused by Ealing Council in September last year because of concerns about air pollution from the exhaust emissions and worries that road safety would be compromised by frequent fuel tanker deliveries though crowded streets.
Biofuelwatch, Friends of the Earth and other environmental campaign groups objected to the development because the production of liquid biofuels on a large scale is unsustainable; they accelerate rather than slow climate change; they harm biodiversity and cause more deforestation; and they can lead to human rights abuses in producing countries.
Blue NG’s subsequent appeal – just dismissed by Mr Pickles - claimed that the power station would only minimally worsen local air quality and that tanker deliveries could be handled safely.
But the appeal decision notes that the proposal would have had an adverse effect on air quality, that some absolute pollution levels would be 50% above statutory limits, and that many people would be affected in a deprived area where there is already a shorter life expectancy than elsewhere in the Borough of Ealing.
Nic Ferriday of Ealing Friends of the Earth said: “It makes absolutely no sense to burn biofuels for electricity and so increase air pollution when the UK is failing to meet EU targets for air quality in London. We calculated that the power station would emit about 126 tonnes of NOx and 46 tonnes of PM10 a year, and the planning inspector accepted our argument that this level of pollution was not acceptable in an urban area already blighted by high levels of air pollution. When we looked at the type of fuel to be used and how it is produced we came to the conclusion that it would lead to more carbon emissions than burning natural gas to generate electricity. Doing that and increasing air pollution is simply mad.”
Robert Palgrave of Biofuelwatch added: “Far from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the UK’s bioenergy policy threatens to accelerate global warming by destroying tropical and sub-tropical forests and peatlands, which are amongst the world’s most important carbon sinks. Even for energy crops grown in Europe, large amounts of nitrous oxide are released as high levels of fertilisers are used, and our biodiversity suffers. Europe’s car industry has used biofuels as a means of avoiding strict fuel efficiency standards which are essential for reducing carbon emissions. Now the UK electricity sector is moving in, attracted by the excessive levels of subsidy on offer for burning biofuels. If we want to have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change then we need drastic cuts in energy use - not oil crops grown in vast monocultures to produce so-called green electricity.
“Planning policies in the UK are currently stacked in favour of power station developments like Southall. A policy drafted 6 years ago before large-scale vegatable oil power stations were on the horizon is being used to exclude full discussion of their environmental impacts in planning applications. To compound the problem, the last Government mistakenly chose to give biofuel electricity the highest level of financial support under the Renewable Obligation – the same as offshore wind power - and this has triggered a rush to build huge sheds around the country containing large diesel engines. Nothing to do with climate change, just a way of meeting an EU target for ‘renewable’ energy.”
A. The Southall power station was designed to burn approximately 20,000 tonnes of vegetable oil per year. That amount of diesel would run 20,000 average sized/mileage cars for a year. And generate roughly the same pollution.
B. How the UK has continued to expand bioenergy in spite of the warnings:
1. July 2008 - Prof Ed Gallagher recommended caution in expanding the use of biofuels in transport because of the indirect impacts:
A slowdown in the growth of biofuels is needed - "The introduction of biofuels should be significantly slowed until adequate controls to address displacement effects are implemented and are demonstrated to be effective. A slowdown will also reduce the impact of biofuels on food commodity prices, notably oil seeds, which have a detrimental effect upon the poorest people."
Lower targets and stronger controls are needed: don't go beyond 5% unless sustainability can be demonstrated - "Current greenhouse gas lifecycle analysis fails to take account of either indirect land change or avoided land use from co-products. Failing to include these factors may create perverse incentives which lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging feedstocks that lead to higher net land use."
2. July 2008 - Ruth Kelly report to the House of Commons:
"Given the uncertainty and potential concerns Professor Gallagher sets out, I believe it is right to adopt a more cautious approach until the evidence is clearer about the wider environmental and social effects of biofuels. We also need to allow time for more sustainable biofuel technologies to emerge."
3. April 2009 - Amended Renewable Obligation Order:
Renewable Obligation Certificates are to be paid at different rates (under a banding scheme) for various types of renewable electricity generation. This arrangement is allowed for but not mandated by the EU Renewable Energy Directive. Burning of Energy Crops, which can include bioliquids such as palm oil, rapeseed oil and jatropha oil, is given the highest level of financial support. Twice that of onshore windfarms and Energy from Waste schemes.
4. Amended ROO triggers application for biofuel power stations
At least 12 bioliquid power stations are now being proposed in the UK. Three have planning permission. Most openly state that they will burn imported fuel. The biggest two developers have openly commented that they want to build several more.
Palm oil is the cheapest suitable vegetable oil. As palm oil is not particularly attractive to the transport biodiesel market, it finds a more natural home as 'straight vegetable oil' for use in power stations.
5. Are these power stations efficient?
None of them provide any district heating (CHP) as they are mostly located in portside settings with no local housing. Waste heat is dumped in the air or in the sea. The Environment Agency has cautioned against the deployment of inefficient biomass power stations saying they will soon have a higher carbon intensity than the average for the national grid. They will therefore hinder the move to a truly low carbon economy. The Environment Agency has also recently made a public statement saying that subsidies for palm oil power stations should be stopped (www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Research/Electricity_generation_from_palm_oil.pdf
6. Biofuel power station consumption and subsidies
The annual fuel consumption of the 12 power stations already in the pipeline will be approximately 250,000 tonnes a year, and the annual financial support around £120m. As context, transport biodiesel consumption in the UK is about 1.1 million tonnes a year (2.7% of total fuel). Unlike the transport sector, where diesel engines can typically not accept a biodiesel blend higher than 5%, there is no technical cap on the volume of fuel that can be burnt to generate power. More power stations can simply be built and connected to the grid.
6. Have the Gallagher recommendations been listened to?
By incentivising biofuel power generation to this extent - which is not mandated by any EU Directive - UK Govt policy is now increasing biofuel consumption in the UK by around 25%. This is hardly a "significant slowdown in the introduction of biofuels" (Gallagher) and it is going ahead without waiting for the emergence of "more sustainable biofuel technologies" (Kelly).
7. The ROC banding scheme can be changed quickly
The ROO allows the Sec of State to amend the scheme under special powers. This was done for off-shore wind recently - bringing it up to the same support level as biofuels. Labour ministers have refused to take this up, saying that the scheduled periodic non-emergency review starting in October 2010 will consider the scheme and any changes decided on will come into effect in April 2013. By which time it is entirely possible that biofuel electricity might be consuming as much as half as much fuel as transport biodiesel.
8. UK developers are planning many solid biomass power stations as well, and the total annual subsidy for all 31 large schemes will be over £2bn. They will consume at least 25 million tonnes per annum, mostly imported wood and other biomass. (The UK has a forecast maximum timber production peaking at 20 million tonnes in 2019. Indigeneous production is already fully subscribed for construction, furniture and existing energy production.)
9. Only 9% of transport biofuel is sourced from UK feedstock. As a result, energy security is not improved compared to fossil fuels and UK agriculture is not stimulated. Apart from one approved bioliquid power station that the operator says will use UK grown rapeseed oil, all of the others will import their fuel, typically palm oil.