The following is a guest post by Leslie Wallace. Leslie is secretary of Friends of the Earth Falkirk, and his background is mainly in waste reduction and recycling. He was the recycling co-ordinator at the Edinburgh International Book Festival from 2002 to 2006, and spent 16 months working on a Government scheme to alleviate fuel poverty and reduce carbon emmissions.
I saw that Greener Leith is dealing with the proposed biomass plant in Leith. Another is proposed for Grangemouth near where I live. I am glad that the sanity of growing trees abroad for import to run a power station is being questioned. It’s a lunacy which just compounds the problems caused by our over consumption, the pillaging of third world resources and the removal of land from habitat protection and agriculture for a spurious use. It’s certainly not ‘green’ because trees are technically a renewable resource.
Thanks to my last job I got a further insight into the issue that might give another perspective on biomass. If wood from Scotland is used for these biomass plants it will deprive a great number of people in areas where there is no mains gas – such as Fort William – of a fuel source that would replace highly expensive electric, oil and bottled gas heating. Last year I spent a week working in Fort William on a scheme intended to reduce fuel poverty. It was badly needed there. Much of the housing stock is energy inefficient and the lack of gas central heating meant that fuel bills were exorbitant. It was not uncommon to visit homes where the occupants were wearing coats because they were afraid to put the heating at a higher setting.
On a positive note some were moving over to wood burning stoves, plenty of waste wood in rural areas after all, which they were finding a big improvement in terms of cost and comfort. The only loser was the electricity company. But of course if wood from rural Scotland goes to biomass burners in the central belt these opportunities will be lost or severely constrained. A socially beneficial change will be hampered, nothing will be done to reduce our general fuel use and energy consumption or for that matter lowering costs to the public and industry. But funnily enough it won’t dent the profits of the energy company. How convenient an environmental ‘solution’ that doesn’t require any form of energy conservation.
So wood from the hills could go to heating hot tubs in the central belt rather than the home of a low income family or pensioner in Fort William or many other areas. I know from my job that there is great scope for reducing energy use in Edinburgh through insulation measures, showing people how to use their heating controls properly and increasing the energy efficiency of appliances. So much better than a tree burner just to feed excessive and wasteful demand – think what could be done if the money meant for the biomass plants went on public education, extra insulation measures and better advice for industry and most of all stoves for people on low incomes. Of course there is more profit in supplying profligate demand than combating fuel poverty.
It’s people in rural Scotland who should be up in arms about the Forth Energy plans for biomass. Scottish Hydro are a partner in Forth Energy and they would have a lot to lose if homes in places like Fort William went over to wood stoves as it is the main supplier of electricity in that area by a large margin. Small scale renewables such as wood stoves are a genuinely social and environmental benefit in rural areas, mass incinerators certainly are not.
Do you think Leslie makes a valid point? What do you think?