Holyhead Smelter Biomass Plant Exhibition
by J Williams
Anglesey Aluminium Metal (AAM) have just held a public exhibition in Holyhead showing plans for a 300 MW biomass renewable energy plant, made up of two units of 150 MW, which would enable the aluminium smelter to produce its own electricity, as well as give a huge boost to local jobs.
According to the plans, the £600 million biomass plant, which would be one of the largest of its kind in the world, could be situated on land next to the existing smelter and could be operating by 2013, burning a combination of wood chips and some plant waste.
These plans have been set out against a very uncertain backdrop for the Rio Tinto - Kaiser Corporation jointly owned aluminium smelter.
Given the growing concern for the impact of greenhouse gases on global climate change, over the lifetime of this biomass power station the estimates are that it would be carbon neutral over the cycle and save around 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.
The advantage of siting the proposed renewable energy power station right next to the smelter is that it effectively represents little change in land use from the planning and environmental perspectives.
Later this year the power contract with nearby Wylfa Nuclear Power Station will finish and the plant is urgently seeking a new reliable source of electricity for its operations.
And there are around 500 employees and contractors at the plant whose future prospects are largely dependent on a renewed energy contract being secured.
Under the biomass plant plans around 600 posts would be created during the construction phase, and local businesses are likely to benefit from contract work in this phase, to be followed by 100 full time jobs thereafter when the new station begins operations.
AAM have already set up an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be completed by PB Power and which is required as one of the conditions for the planning consent process the company is making to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
As well as gathering objective scientific data to establish impacts on the immediate surroundings in Holyhead there will also be opportunities for local people to make representations during the consultation process.
The timetable envisaged by AAM is that assuming the planning consents are secured over the coming months then construction could begin in early 2011 and the plant would be ready by late 2013.
What will the EIA cover?
A key area of study will be the impact of emissions, which includes the gases from the 90 metre high stack.
As it is intended to be primarily a wood-burning plant, there will be minimal sulphur oxide, SO(x) releases, with the main two gases being carbon monoxide and the nitrogen oxides, NO (x).
As well as releases to the air there will also likely be releases into the water, and both these potential impacts will be reduced as far as possible.
Part of the analysis by PB Power will involve the use of air dispersion modelling so that they can map the degree and extent of dispersal of effluent gases.
The EIA will also be considering the impact of noise on the nearby towns and villages and again ensure that the plant would be within the statutory regulations on noise limits.
Surveys will be carried out on the local ecology to see whether there could be any material impact on habitat and the biodiversity of species on the island.
The EIA wil also take into account any visual impact on the landscape as well as health, safety and waste management implications.
What fuel will be used?
The plans are for wood chippings or waste from the timber process of sustainable forests, which would include roots and branches but not the main trunk, and the moisture content of the wood chippings could be up to around 40% of overall weight.
Clearly, the lower the moisture content of the wood the more efficient will be the output of electricity per tonne of fuel.
Sources of the wood chippings would be the east coast of the US and Canada as well as parts of Scandanavia and mainland Europe, and the fuel would be delivered in carriers specifically designed for such cargoes, which would offload their cargoes at the Rio Tinto jetty in Holyhead harbour.
In addition to wood chippings there would also be an effort to source a percentage of the biomass fuel from the north west Wales region, including Anglesey, where farmers would be encouraged to grow energy crops such as flax and miscanthus.
AAM Managing Director at the local smelter, David Bloor, sees biomass as the best opportunity to secure the long term future for the smelter.
Local MP Albert Owen said: "In fighting to safeguard jobs at Anglesey Aluminium I have been encouraging the company to look at alternative energy sources for some time. This is a positive move and I am pleased they are moving forward on this issue."
There is a related biomass project by Eco Pellets Limited under consideration on the Llangefni Industrial Park. This is much smaller in scale, and being less than 50MW, would be within the remit of the Welsh Assembly Government rather than DECC.
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