13 October 1995

Straw-fired power plant still a runner despite plans delay

EAST Anglian farmers will have to wait at least two more years to supply the UKs first straw-fired power station after planning permission for the proposed site at Sutton, near Ely, was refused (News, Oct 6).

An appeal is on the cards but will not be heard before the new year, says Richard Crouch of developer European Development Corporation, Redhill, Surrey.

"The chief planning officer said there was no sustainable reason for refusing this application. Despite that, it was still turned down, albeit by one vote."

He is convinced the decision will be reversed on appeal. The site has outlying planning permission for industrial and employment development and the necessary infrastructure is already in place.

The project also secured additional funding last year through the Non-Fossil Fuels Obligation.

The fact that a 14ha (35-acre) glasshouse nursery using waste heat and carbon dioxide from the 31MW plant was given the go-ahead at the same hearing strengthens the case, he adds. "The nursery will be a major employer of local labour, but depends on the power plant being built. The inspector will take all this into consideration. I am confident we will win." With a 24-month build and commissioning programme, the first straw will not be used until 1998. "Hopefully, we can start building as early as possible next year. I dont welcome the delay but we will have to put up with it," says Mr Crouch.

Chris Barnes, chief executive of March-based Fengrain, one of the two companies contracted to supply 500t of fuel a day, is disappointed, but hopeful. "Sutton is a central site and in my opinion, as far as environmental impact is concerned, it is a good one."

Farmers remain warm to the project, he maintains. "But time goes on. The way this is being strung out is not helpful. However, we are in an area which has the greatest surplus of straw in the country."

lPlans to burn coppice wood chips in the future look less secure as set-aside falls. "But in two or three years time that could turn around." The area could also benefit from EC cash to kick-start the industry, he explains. &#42