28 July 1995

Questions unanswered

THE reasons for KP not being granted an NFFO contract for its proposed 5Mw generating plant at Britton Court Farm, Tyler Hill, near Canterbury, remain unclear.

"Detailed questions put to the Department of Trade and Industry remain unanswered," comments Mr Laugharne.

One reason, he suspects, is that KP chose conventional steam generating equipment, rather than the "potentially" more efficient but relatively novel gasifier process planned by other, successful NFFO applicants.

However, the "fluidised bed" system developed and proven by the IVO company in Finland would have allowed electricity to be produced at much the same cost, he claims. There was also the possibility of selling "waste" heat to the nearby university.

Mr Laugharne says more than 200 growers with existing chestnut coppice had signed up to supply the proposed plant – a key feature under the "Will Secure Test".

He questions whether the same commitment has been forthcoming from the successful applicants, particularly without a guarantee that set-aside is here to stay.

Willow plantings for the successful NFFO projects are just beginning to get under way. "But no contact seems to have been made with potential growers on any commercial scale," says Mr Holdstock.

Agricultural merchant Banks of Sandy says it has set up four 4-8ha (10-20 acre) demonstration plots in East Anglia and the West Country. The aim is to harvest on a three to four-year cycle to fulfil a 11.4Mw NFFO contract jointly awarded to Banks and South Western Power, a subsidiary of South Western Electricity.

Yorkshire Environmental, the Yorks Water offshoot which gained an EU Thermie grant for its 8Mw NFFO project at Eggborough, near Selby, plans to plant 2000ha (5000 acres) of short rotation willow over three years starting next spring.

"You have to remember that the NFFO scheme is by its very nature competitive. We put in our documentation and OFFER must have been more than happy with the information," says YEs Keith Pitcher.

Mr Laugharne argues that it was a clear requirement that a prospective generator be able to pass "Will Secure" scrutiny.

The Kent project was subjected to that test, he stresses. "It is beyond my imagination to understand how the Electricity Regulator was able to agree that any generator who had not even identified the land on which the fuel was to be grown, let alone negotiated a viable purchase price of chips with farmers, could agree the fuel was available."

Mr Laugharne now plans to put his case before the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the European Court.

Farmer Keith Laugharne – bitter that chestnut coppice has been "sacrificed on the altar of short rotation arable coppice".