Biomass plants face growing opposition

Banham Poultry’s plans to generate electricity from chicken by-products have been rejected by Norfolk County Council because of fears about odour. Meanwhile, a survey reveals substantial public opposition to a proposed biomass plant in Devon.

The latest received wisdom on UK renewables policy is that it has subsidised unpopular onshore windfarms at the expense of other technologies such as biomass (ENDS Report 354, pp 38-39 ). A broader portfolio of technologies would gain public support, the argument goes.

However, biomass projects are also running into substantial opposition - as evidenced by refusal of planning permission for Banham Poultry’s plant at its Attleborough site in Norfolk.

The animal by-product regulations are prompting the food industry to re-think the way that it treats its waste. Since the late 1990s, Banham Poultry - which supplies 3% of the UK’s fresh chicken - has been unable to use poultry by-products as animal feed and the material has had to be rendered and incinerated.

The company considered several options for dealing with the waste, including anaerobic digestion and composting. It settled on a pyrolysis and gasification system which it developed and patented with the University of East Anglia (UEA).

In December, Norfolk County Council rejected Banham’s planning application because of a "lack of sufficient information relating to odour control".

Banham director Robin Goram said the decision "flies in the face of both the advice of the Environment Agency, which has already granted an IPPC permit to the facility, and also the technical report commissioned by the county council itself, which concluded that the proposal should be encouraged." Banham is considering an appeal.

The decision is another blow to the beleaguered biomass industry. Only a handful of projects have come forward in recent years, backed by capital grants (ENDS Report 339, p 11 ).

Banham had intended to proceed without a capital grant - and expected a return on its £10 million investment within seven years. Applications for support from the Carbon Trust were rejected twice and the company was told that its plan did not qualify for a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry, said project manager Bob Waterson.

Banham had planned to use 1,200 tonnes of waste per week to generate 5.5MW of electricity, although nearly 20% of this would be used to power the process and a thermal oxidiser to deodorise air emissions. It also planned to generate additional income by taking waste from other chicken processors and abattoirs.

  • Meanwhile, proposals for a 23MW biomass gasification plant in Winkleigh, North Devon are running into substantial opposition.

    Peninsular Power’s plans are "highly unpopular", according to a survey by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.1 More than three-quarters of respondents were concerned about lorry air pollution and congestion, the credibility of the developer, air pollution from the plant, visual intrusion, odour and the wastes that may be used as a fuel.

    Almost 80% of respondents were concerned about the technology’s reliability. In 2002, the Arbre biomass gasification plant in Yorkshire was declared insolvent after being dogged by technical problems (ENDS Report 331, p 12 ).

    Remarkably, eight times more people were in favour of wind turbines than were in favour of the biomass plant. The finding is all the more significant given Devon’s resistance to wind power - only one 3MW windfarm has been approved in the county.

    Biomass is often portrayed as having significant benefits for rural regeneration and job creation. However, over three-quarters of respondents identified no potential benefits from the plant and some 80% felt that it would be bad for the local area.

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