Forth Energy, the developer behind a huge proposed power plant on Leith docks, have embarked on a new round of promotion for the four power stations they’ve planned.
Just yesterday, their manager Calum Wilson managed to get 300 terribly reassuring sounding words in the Scotsman. However, for the layman, it may not have been clear what he meant.
In his piece, which we re-produce in full below, Mr Wilson says that, “debate is good and the facts should be aired and understood.” So, we’ve added some FACTS to his copy to make it easier for everyone to understand. His original text is in italics.
“AL GORE applauded Scotland’s plans to become a major player in renewable energy.”
FACT: There is no evidence that Al Gore made any reference to the Forth Energy biomass proposals. He spoke mainly about wave, tidal and wind power, and supported the Scottish Government renewables policies. These policies do not support large biomass plants like the ones proposed by Forth Energy.
“There is already considerable discussion about Forth Energy’s proposals to site wood-fuelled combined heat and power (CHP) plants at Rosyth, Grangemouth, Dundee and Leith. Debate is good and the facts should be aired and understood.”
FACT: There has indeed been considerable debate. Not much of it supports the Forth Energy proposals. In fact SNH have formally objected to the Leith plant, whilst Falkirk Council have objected to the firms similar Grangemouth power plant proposals. This last objection will trigger a public enquiry into the Grangemouth plant so it’s very good that Mr Wilson welcomes debate, as there will be more of it.
“These plants will generate reliable supplies of renewable, low carbon electricity and heat for industrial processes and residential, community and commercial space heating from internationally-sourced, sustainable resources.”
FACT: In the planning application Forth Energy have submitted for Leith they make absolutely no commitment to using the huge amounts of heat generated by the power station. In fact they acknowledge that without a further public subsidy to pay the one million pounds per kilometer (plus extra to install heat pipes into buildings) that a heat network will cost, they actually plan to just dump all the heat generated into the sea.
FACT: There is still no confirmed additional public subsidy available to pay for the installation of the giant heat network Forth Energy would need to make efficient use of the heat the proposed Leith plant would generate. This is because the UK government just pulled it at the 11th hour after the EU said the proposed rates for big biomass were too high.
“These plants will produce not just reliable, renewable electricity (500MW – or around 9 per cent of Scotland’s predicted 2020 demand), but 320MW of heat too – nearly a third of the Scottish Government’s 2020 target of 11 per cent of heat from renewable sources.”
FACT: There are plenty of studies, including ones conducted by the Scottish Government themselves, that indicate Scotland will have no trouble keeping the lights on, or meeting its renewable energy targets regardless of whether these plants are given the green light.
FACT: The Forth Energy proposals do nothing to support current Scottish Government policy, which is for small, decentralised units which are scaled to an identified heat demand, and located off the gas grid.
“This heat provides the opportunity for Scotland to create a renewable heat industry – with the potential for district heating networks nearby.”
FACT: Forth Energy admit it’ll be difficult to build a heat network in the planning applications – you should read the feasiblity study – and that’s why they haven’t committed to doing any of it without a huge amount of public subsidy. Apart from cash there are many other practical problems associated with using the heat. How will Forth Energy persuade thousands of private home owners, most with relatively low carbon gas heating already, to install a whole new heating system? Are local residents prepared to tolerate their streets being dug up again?
“Low carbon? From burning wood? The Scottish Institute of Sustainable Technology at Heriot-Watt University projects the carbon intensity of Forth Energy’s plants at well inside the Scottish Government’s threshold while also meeting all UK and EU emission limits.”
FACT: The Scottish Institute of Sustainable Technology figures have never been peer reviewed, or published anywhere apart from the Forth Energy website. There is no clarity on what assumptions have been made in the Forth Energy figures about heat use. If the track record of the firm is anything to go by, then it is likely these claims are based on an assumption that heat from the plants will be used. But, as we’ve already established, the planning documents contain no firm commitment that any heat will in fact be used.
FACT: Forth Energy have produced new promotional leaflets with graph-like-pretty-pictures like the one below, also with no information on how these figures were derived:
Is it sustainable to ship wood from overseas? We will buy wood fuel from certified sources, grown and managed to international standards.
FACT: Forth Energy have carefully avoided committing themselves to any international forestry standard in their planning application. Even if they did there isn’t one that guarantees that forests will be managed in a way that ensures the carbon they store is not reduced as it is harvested and managed. This fact has not stopped them using the widely respected FSC logo in their presentations to politicians.
FACT: If Forth Energy get planning permission for these power plants it is likely they will be able to burn timber from wherever they choose. It is very rare for biomass power plants to have planning conditions attached to them that specify the source and standard of the fuel.
“The carbon intensity of our wood fuel (including processing and shipping) averages 79 per cent lower than coal and 44 per cent less than gas.”
FACT: In their planning application, Forth Energy use several different methods that are likely to overstate the carbon savings that their proposed plants will deliver. We identify some in our objection to the plant, but if you don’t believe us, Government body, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency also have concerns.
“This £1.7 billion investment creates important opportunities for Scotland. In addition to 1,350 construction jobs and 285 permanent operational roles, these plants will generate £26-£32 million per year in local economic growth. They will support existing local businesses with low carbon heat and encourage industrial hubs at both Grangemouth and Rosyth, while supporting new renewables manufacturing hubs at Dundee and Leith.”
FACT: The renewables manufacturing hubs proposed at Dundee and Leith are a bit like the plans to build a massive heat network. They sound great, but they’re totally unconfirmed, and unlikely to happen any time soon.
FACT: The other thing the development of the renewables manufacturing hubs and the heat networks have in common is that they’re not inexorably linked to the planning application for the giant power plants Forth Energy propose. It is perfectly possible to develop one without the other.
FACT: Earlier regeneration plans for the docks had the potential, according to Forth Ports own figures, to generate far more jobs. Also, local businesses, Visit Scotland, SNH and Architecture and Design Scotland have all voiced concerns over the negative economic impact of building a large power station on Leith docks.
Scotland faces challenges if we want to create a sustainable, renewable future.