SCOTLAND’S largest biomass power plant has been granted planning permission by the Scottish Government despite fears it will cause air pollution and destroy forests – sparking allegations the SNP’s green policy is “confused and contradictory”.
The £465 million combined heat and electricity plant at the Port of Grangemouth will burn more than a million tonnes of sustainable wood chips each year, most of which are due to be imported from America.
Developer Forth Energy said the plant would play a key role in achieving the Scottish Government’s 2020 renewable targets by generating enough power to meet almost all of the Falkirk council area’s electricity .
However, environmental groups said emissions from the plant would exacerbate existing “unacceptable” levels of toxic gases around Grangemouth and warned of the environmental cost of shipping in vast quantities of biomass from “questionable” sources around the world.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing’s decision to give the plant the go-ahead was branded a contradiction of previous statements from the SNP on biomass and climate change.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “This decision reveals major confusion within the Scottish Government. Only a year ago, it issued its energy generating policy statement, setting out clear, strong reasons not to use biomass for large-scale projects such as this.
“It claims to have a policy favouring use of biomass in small-scale plants, off the gas grid, using primarily local sources of supply. Now it approves a massive power station importing over a million tonnes of trees a year to burn for electricity.”
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s energy committee, described chopping down vast swathes of foreign woodland to burn in Scotland as “plain daft”.
She added: “The Scottish Government has zero environmental credibility. They’ve missed carbon reduction targets, they support extending the life of nuclear plants, they’re gung-ho for coal, oil and gas, and now they’re foolishly backing big biomass.”
Up to 500 jobs are set to be created during construction of the Grangemouth plant, which is due to take three years.
Developers hope it will be operational by about 2017, supporting 70 long-term jobs and boosting the local economy by roughly £26m each year.
The approval of the plant follows a decision by Forth Energy to abandon plans for a similar proposal in Leith last year after widespread opposition.
Forth Energy, a partnership of Forth Ports Ltd and SSE, said yesterday it was committed to producing “renewable, reliable and responsible” energy and would meet all UK and European air-quality standards.
Managing director Calum Wilson said the partnership was in talks with “established and sustainable” biomass suppliers in America.
The Scottish Government said it had imposed a number of conditions to protect local residents from “inconvenience, [to] safeguard the appearance of the area and protect the environment and air quality”.
It added: “Whilst policy states preference for smaller plants [it] does not prohibit large-scale biomass plants.”