Biomass Plans set for Public Exhibition

Keep out! But will biomass be in?

By Tony Garner

Forth Energy are to give the public a chance to view plans for a controversial new biomass plant at the Docks in Leith.

The company announced exhibitions at the St James’ Centre, South Leith Parish Church, and Ocean Terminal on the 10th, 12th and 13th of November respectively.  The exhibitions will include panels showing detailed plans of the site and information about the company’s aim to bolster Scotland’s renewable energy sector.

A Forth Energy spokesperson said the exhibition was being publicised by flyering and advertising in local press.

But Greener Leith, a conservation group, have called into question the company’s commitment to openness.  ‘They don’t provide answers to serious enquiries,’ Alasdair Tibbit told Edinburgh Napier News.  He said Forth Energy had failed to answer the question of how long the plant would take to offset its initial carbon debt.  The Scottish Government have set a target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, but Tibbit claimed it would be over a century by the time the biomass plant could really be called carbon neutral.

Greener Leith are spearheading strong local opposition, including Labour MP’s Mark Lazarowicz and Sheila Gilmore, who recently tabled a House of Commons question on the issue, as well as Green MSP Robin Harper.  Campaigners object to the sourcing from Canada and continental Europe of the woodchip residue fuel which the plant needs to operate.

‘If Forth Energy were serious about doing this properly they would be co-ordinating with the Forestry Commission and Scottish companies and making long term agreements for fuel supply’, Harper said.

Both Harper and Greener Leith accept the potential of biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels, but believe the Forth Energy proposal is poorly conceived and too large for the site.  The principle of biomass energy is that trees are replanted to directly offset the carbon dioxide produced by those that are burned.  The plants start their life in ‘carbon debt’ because of the energy expended in the initial construction phase and in transporting the organic material to the plant itself.

The final plans will be submitted to Scottish Ministers early next year, with a decision expected later in 2011.  The SNP have made support for the alternative energy sector one of the key planks of their first term in Government, with First Minister Alex Salmond in Glasgow yesterday to announce a £70 million fund for renewables projects.  If the biomass plant does get the go-ahead, Forth Energy would be helped by some of these generous public subsidies.