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BusinessGreen: Green light for North Blyth biomass power plant


RES secures planning approval for new 100MW biomass facility, details plan to ensure fuel comes from sustainable sources

By James Murray

The UK's fast-expanding biomass energy sector received another boost today, as the government granted planning approval to RES' proposed 99.9MW North Blyth biomass power plant.

The developer is now poised to move forward with the £250m project, which when completed is expected to provide enough clean energy from up to 170,000 homes, equivalent to every home in Northumberland.

RES said the project was also likely to create between 200 and 300 jobs during the peak period of construction, as well as a further 50 jobs during operation.

A final investment decision is now expected in the near future, while the company also announced earlier this month that it was in the process of appointing a contractor to construct the facility. RES said it expected construction to get underway in 2014 and for the project to be completed in around two and a half years.

The project is the latest in a series of biomass power plants to secure planning permission as the government seeks to expand a sector that promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions while providing baseload power.

However, the industry is facing fierce criticism from green groups who have warned that safeguards designed to ensure biomass fuel comes from sustainable sources are not tight enough and as such some projects could struggle to deliver promised emissions savings.

North Blyth Energy, the RES subsidiary managing the project, states on its website that it has taken a series of steps to ensure the facility's fuel is "produced from sustainably-sourced domestic or imported forestry material, dedicated energy crops or non-recyclable waste wood".

The bulk of the fuel is expected to be imported by sea to the port, but RES stressed that it has proposed a planning requirement that will ensure the fuel used comes from officially sustainable sources.

"The operators of the power station will be required to provide an annual report to the local planning authority on the sustainability of the biomass fuel used at the plant," the company adds on its website. "The report will provide the same information, level of assurance and verification which is required under the national mandatory UK sustainability criteria for solid biomass fuels."

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change similarly stressed that the plant would only make use of sustainably sourced fuel.

"Sustainably sourced biomass has an important role to play as part of a balanced energy mix, enhancing energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he said in a statement. "If constructed, this development will help bring jobs and growth to the local economy."

RES Project Manager Chris Lawson said the company was delighted to have secured planning permission for the project.

"It is a welcome confirmation of the Government's support for sustainable, low carbon energy projects which will make a significant contribution towards meeting the UK's legally binding 2020 renewable energy targets," he added in a statement. "We now look forward to taking the project forward to construction and to kick starting this multi-million pound investment in the Blyth Estuary area."