30 August 2002

Second biomass plant in jeopardy

PROBLEMS at another power station have cast further doubts on the governments commitment to alternative energy from willow grown by farmers.

East Anglian producers who signed up to grow energy crops are worried about the postponement of building work at a biomass plant at Eye in Suffolk. It follows the ARBRE plant, in Yorkshire, which went into liquidation in early August after encountering technical problems.

Novera Energy of Warrington, Cheshire, signalled further delays to the Eye plant, despite obtaining planning permission more than a year ago. But farmers within a 25-mile radius of the proposed power station have already used set-aside land to plant more than 64ha (160 acres) of willow.

Now growers are looking for alternative outlets in the event of the power station not being built at all. Norfolk grower John Alston, who farms at Attleborough, is organising fuel supplies on behalf of a consortium called Anglia Encrop. Delays to the power plant were very unfortunate, he said.

"There is a bit of despondency about the fact that it has not gone to plan but we are actively looking for alternative markets just in case they are needed," Mr Alston added. But he was optimistic that outlets would be found – either in the energy market or in schemes involving the supply of both heat and power to buildings.

William Easton, of F &#42 Easton Ltd farming company at Bunwell, Norfolk, has planted 26ha (64 acres) of willow on his family farm with his cousin Mark. "We need the government to give further aid to the existing power station schemes and more commitment to the growing of energy crops," he said.

Adrian Robinson, Novera Energys commercial manager, said efforts were still being made to guarantee that the plant would operate at a certain level of efficiency over a set period. "The technology is not simple and we have conducted a worldwide search. We have identified two potential providers, both outside the UK."

A DEFRA spokesman said problems with the two biomass plants were disappointing. Officials would work with farmers to find alternative markets for timber crops. "Developing new energy sources remains a key part of the governments commitment to meeting its target of generating 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010." &#42