E.ON biomass plant gets green light, plan uncertain

By Anna Austin | March 15, 2012

The U.K. Department of Energy & Climate Change has granted E.ON Climate & Renewables permission to construct a 150 MW biomass power plant at Royal Portbury Dock in the Port of Bristol, North Somerset, England. But it is unclear whether the company will move forward with plans in light of a proposal to cut government biomass subsidies in the coming years.

To be fuelled mainly by imported virgin wood, dedicated energy crops and locally-sourced waste wood, the plant would generate enough electricity to power up to 160,000 homes. The company believes the project will create up to 325 temporary jobs during construction, 35 full-time jobs during operation and require 20 contract personnel during routine and annual maintenance.

 According to the plan, E.ON would set up a Community Investment Fund and contribute £50,000 to it every year that the plant is operating, in order to support charitable and educational community projects. E.ON would also allocate £75,000 to trial green buses and to improve cycle routes in the local area.

But permission granted doesn’t necessarily mean E.ON plans to pursue the plant. Shortly after the DECC’s consent notice, the company announced that it would first re-examine its renewable energy strategy in light of the U.K. government’s current banding review of the Renewables Obligation, which is being finalized for release this spring.

The Renewables Obligation awards Renewables Obligation Certificates to qualifying technologies. Levels of support are banded by technology type and include multiple biomass-related technologies, as well as wind, geothermal, solar and hydro. In October, the DECC proposed to leave dedicated biomass support at the current 1.5 ROCs per megawatt hour (MWh) through March 2016, reducing it to 1.4 ROCs per MWh beginning April 2016.

Shortly thereafter, the U.K. Committee on Climate Change released its Bioenergy Review, which recommends government support through the Renewables Obligation be tailored to burning biomass in existing coal-fired plants through conversion and co-firing, and smaller-scale plants using local resources. But it adds that safeguards will need to be introduced to ensure support for new dedicated biomass capacity is limited, if any support is given at all.

As a result of the unknown fate of biomass power subsidies, other developers have also put the brakes on projects, including Drax Power. Drax has previously stated that biomass subsidies are already set too low, and in February the company cancelled plans for a 290 MW biomass power plant in North Yorkshire, England.