7 November 1997

…but short-rotation projects unlikely to catch on in south

SHORT-rotation coppice is unlikely to power large-scale electricity generation in the south for the foreseeable future, says Nigel Viney of Beds-based merchant Sidney C Banks.

Original estimates were that 2500ha (6500 acres) of coppice would be needed to supply 33,000t of dry wood to fuel the combined 11MW output of power stations at Cricklade in Wilts and Eye in Suffolk. Now forestry residues will be the fuel of choice, he believes.

"We have been sitting here waiting for the developer to make a move for the past four years. In that time, the case for arable coppice has gone. High cereal prices did not help, and now all growers are looking to do is survive."

Gerry Swarbrick, managing director of developer South Western Power, admits nothing seems to have happened. But the company has been busy trying to solve the technical problems associated with the new gasification technology stipulated in the NFFO agreement, he maintains.

"We are now close to something that will work. We are in discussion with a number of suppliers. The type of technology we have to use on a commercial scale is not proven on wood yet. This is not a small-scale experiment, but a commercial demonstration. We have to be sure the plant we use will perform satisfactorily."

But time is getting short, he admits. "The next few months will be make or break as far as this company is concerned. Under the NFFO agreement the contract expires in 2014. If it is not built soon, it will eat into its 15-year life."

Mr Swarbrick believes some NFFO contracts should have been awarded for older, proven, steam-powered plants. "That would have allowed us to carry out our original intention which was to test the fuel supply. We could have switched to more proven technology later."

Growers may still benefit, he adds. "It is worth testing the concept on existing wood. If the economics suit arable coppice, we can go ahead and use it."n

SWP PROJECTS

&#8226 Make or break time for developer.

&#8226 New technology close, but project time elapsing.

&#8226 Forestry residues now fuel of choice.

&#8226 Arable coppice could follow.