Dust-up over biomass plant

Artist's impression of E.On's planned biomass energy plant at Blackburn Meadows, near Sheffield
Artist's impression of E.On's planned biomass energy plant at Blackburn Meadows, near Sheffield

A PRESSURE group is urging local MPs to step in to halt plans for a biomass plant in Sheffield on the grounds that it would be a “health hazard”.

Emissions from the burning of waste wood “contain a range of toxic chemicals and very fine particulate matter that can cause ill health”, says the Breathe Clean Air Group.

The Manchester-based organisation has contacted local MPs so they can take action to stop the plant at Blackburn Meadows, near the M1, “before it is too late”.

But power company E.ON, which has started construction of a £120m plant, said the burning of biomass fuel was “a tried and tested” method of producing electricity and heat, and will be subject to strict safety and environmental regulations. It is designed to provide electricity for up to 40,000 homes by the middle of 2014.

Peter Kilvert, chairman of the Breathe Clean Air Group, warns of emissions “that can cause ill health conditions such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart attacks, strokes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and premature death”.

He is telling MPs that this could affect their constituencies because the fine particulate matter “can travel many miles on the prevailing wind and be easily absorbed into the body”.

Mr Kilvert also says that burning biomass produces 50% more carbon dioxide than coal and 330% more than natural gas. “This process is not green nor clean.

“The argument that the carbon dioxide burnt is taken up by the next generation of tree growth is false. It takes 50 to 100 years for the CO2 to be absorbed. The destruction of forests is also an ethical issue, especially as wood chips may have to be imported from endangered rainforests. Waste wood will have to be recycled, not burnt, in the near future.”

However Tim Forrest, head of biomass at E.ON, said: “The burning of biomass fuel is a tried and tested method of producing electricity and heat, and, as with all of our operations, the Blackburn Meadows biomass-fired renewable energy plant is subject to strict safety and environmental regulations, and will be extensively tested and regularly inspected.”

Wood will come from the UK – waste from council sites, skip hire firms, pallet manufacturers and joinery workshops, which would normally go to landfill.

Mr Forrest added: “Burning biomass results in a substantial reduction in carbon, sulphur and nitrogen oxide relative to burning coal. In addition, it is important to consider the life cycle emissions of biomass.

“At Blackburn Meadows, we’ll use recycled waste wood, plus wood which is of too low a grade to be recycled; this material would otherwise go to landfill and produce methane, a gas which has a significantly greater greenhouse gas effect than CO2.

“At the site, we’ve already carried out an air quality assessment as part of our overall Environmental Impact Assessment. The plant will use state of the art pollution reduction technology to ensure that we meet the stringent emission limits which have been set and it will operate under the strict European legislation required for this type of plant.”