Depending on who you ask, plans for a biomass power plant in Leith either represent a huge opportunity for helping meeting green energy targets or a massive blot on the landscape.
The 360 million plant – one of four planned across Scotland – has already drawn criticism from environmental campaigners and councillors due to proposals for a smokestack up to 100 metres high. But Forth Energy, the firm behind the scheme, argues it will create local jobs and provide green energy to thousands of local homes. Here Calum Wilson , managing director of Forth Energy, and Rob Kirkwood, of the Leith Links Residents' Association, set out the case both for and against
Calum Wilson, managing director of Forth Energy
Forth Energy plans to develop four renewable energy plants at the ports of Leith, Dundee, Grangemouth and Rosyth. The projects represent a 1.7 billion investment in renewable energy and would have a total energy capacity of up to 500 megawatts – enough to power more than a million homes. These plants are among the largest infrastructure projects planned in Scotland in the next ten years.
In its efforts to tackle climate change, the Scottish Government has set clear targets for renewable energy production by 2020. These include 50 per cent of Scotland's electricity to be supplied from renewable sources and 11 per cent of Scotland's heat to be met by renewable sources.
These renewable energy plants will be fuelled by sustainably-sourced biomass and, as well as making a strong contribution to government targets, they will deliver additional local benefits.
The development of a plant in Leith is an ambitious project but one we feel will have a positive impact. The total investment at Leith will be up to 600 million, providing further economic growth for the area and enhancing long-term employment prospects through the development of new skills. Opportunities will include the creation of 250 construction jobs and 60 operational jobs.
As one of Scotland's major ports, Leith is an ideal location for a renewable energy plant and offers excellent sea and rail links, a deep water dock and the capacity to unload and store biomass quickly and safely. This state-of-the-art plant will also produce renewable heat that can be supplied to local businesses, industry and communities.
The two initial residential developments at the harbour are progressing and, as they develop, the proposed plant will be capable of providing low carbon renewable energy to them. It will also have the potential to supply energy to other areas over the longer term. Emissions from the plant will be subject to detailed studies and modelling to ensure there are no adverse health effects associated with the plant.
Rob Kirkwood, spokesman for Leith Links Residents Association
Forth Ports has money problems. The housing market crashed, land prices plummeted and its plans for a residential waterfront development will no longer deliver the expected cash.
This proposal for a biomass incinerator is simply a hastily drawn up plan to deal with this poverty. Forth Energy (the company formed by Forth Ports and Scottish and Southern Energy) will of course try to convince us that this proposal is not just about quick money.
It will dress up the incinerator in green clothes, apply eco-friendly, sustainable make-up and try to convince us it is an attractive proposition for the community.
However, the green clothes clearly don't fit and the badly applied make-up cannot possibly hide the ugliness of the scheme.
First of all, the incinerator will produce a cocktail of toxic emissions that research shows are harmful to human beings. Furthermore, the unique climate of Leith, with its frequent sea fogs, will ensure these particles will not be dispersed by a proposed 100m chimney stack, but will remain at nose level, as are the noxious emissions from the Seafield sewerage works.
Secondly, the plant – as well as being an ugly construction – will also generate continuous light and noise throughout the day and night for residents. At night, the plant will be lit up with floodlights and throughout the day and night, articulated lorries will be transporting combustible substances into the plant and taking out vast quantities of toxic ash (no-one knows where this ash is going). This will go on for 24 hours each day and the local air quality – which is already poor in Leith – will inevitably get poorer.
This will not, of course, encourage anyone to buy a flat in the proposed residential development, which suggests a lack of joined-up thinking from a company trying to maximise its profits.
Thirdly, will it really generate green energy? The organisation Greener Leith in its recent submission on the proposal points out that currently there is no ongoing external independent audit of the fuel used in the plant so there's no guarantee that the wood will come from forests that will be replaced. Forests throughout the world will clearly be at risk.
If this incinerator is built then we can all wave goodbye to a residential waterfront development which will enhance the reputation of Edinburgh as one of the most architecturally beautiful and prestigious cities in the world.
Leith was expected to get a facelift, but this plan represents a botched job.