Controversial Peel gasification facility given the go-ahead

Artist's illustration of the proposed Bilsthorpe Energy Centre
A £70-million incinerator planned for Nottinghamshire has been given the go-ahead following delays caused by concerns over the experimental technology to be used in the facility.

Planning permission for the Bilsthorpe Energy Centre (BEC) was approved by members of Nottinghamshire County Council in 2014 after an application was submitted by Peel Environmental and Waste2Tricity. However, it was then called in by then-Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and in April this year a decision on permission was delayed following concerns over the technology used in the project.

Following this, DCLG invited comments to allow it to come to an informed decision on the new facility and, after examination of all the responses, the National Planning Inspectors recommended approval of the plan, which was today (3 June) approved by the Secretary of State for the DCLG, Greg Clark.

The BEC will house a materials recovery facility (MRF) – which will recover recyclables and produce fuel from residual waste normally destined for landfill disposal – and a gasification facility, where the fuel produced at the MRF will be used to produce electricity and heat.

Once built, the BEC will be capable of producing 9.6 megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to power 23,000 homes – which will be exported to the national grid. Peel says that as much as 117,000 tonnes of waste will be diverted from landfill, with 22,000 tonnes of recyclable materials potentially being recovered each year.

Decision delayed

In April, prior to the decision to delay approval for the BEC, American gas company Air Products announced it was withdrawing from the energy-from-waste (EfW) business.

In doing so, the company abandoned construction of an experimental plasma arc gasification project in the Tees Valley due to ‘design and operational challenges’ and a ‘failure to overcome technological difficulties’ which the firm claimed would ‘require significant cost and time to rectify’.

The decision to delay the decision on planning for the BEC was based on its use of similar experimental technology to the failed Tees Valley project. A letter sent from DCLG to parties to the inquiry stated: ‘The the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to give the parties to the Bilsthorpe case an opportunity to comment on any implications which the reasons leading to this announcement might have for the Bilsthorpe scheme as currently proposed.’

Energy centre will ‘generate low-carbon energy for the region’

Richard Barker, Development Manager at Peel Environmental, said: “There’s a need for this type of facility to provide both a solution for Nottinghamshire’s waste and to generate low-carbon energy for the region. Our plans will stimulate investment and bring new jobs to the area in addition to bringing a former industrial site back into productive use.

“We welcome the Secretary of State’s positive decision after a lengthy planning process and approval from the county council. The energy centre will be a solution to some of the county’s waste challenges and will in turn create supply chain opportunities and a boost to the local economy of around £4 million per year.”

Plant is an ‘experiment on the people of Bilsthorpe’

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer has been a vocal critic of the development
However, there has been local opposition to the project, with one group, Residents Against Gasification Experiment (RAGE), campaigning for many years to prevent the BEC being approved. The campaign is supported by the MP for Sherwood, Mark Spencer, who says he is concerned about the decision to grant planning permission for the BEC project.

Spencer attended the public inquiry in November to speak out against the project and raised issues of traffic and road safety as well as his concerns on the recent failure of the technology, which he claimed could lead to the project being ‘abandoned half way through the build’.

Following the announcement today, he commented: “From the word go, we were worried about all sorts of inaccuracies and issues with the application, and concerned about the impact on what is a very small rural community. That’s why we took it to the inspector. Now we’re in a position where another site at Tees Valley using this same technology has failed, and construction has come to a halt leaving the site, the jobs and the local area at risk.

“Despite that planners are still willing to go ahead here in Bilsthorpe, it makes no sense when you know for a fact that it isn’t working elsewhere. It is an experimental technology and it has failed. I’ll continue to support the residents against this plan, because it’s not right that this company is being allowed to continue their experiment on the people of Bilsthorpe.”

‘No examples’ of technology being successful

A spokesperson for the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), which opposes all incineration, including the ‘troubled technologies of pyrolysis and gasification’, as it believes it ‘depresses recycling, destroys valuable resources and releases greenhouse gases’, added: “Peel and Waste2Tricity have acknowledged that the facility they are proposing for Bilsthorpe would use the same Westinghouse plasma gasification technology system and the same syngas cleaning process as was used at Air Products' failed Tees Valley gasification facilities.

“Despite what they would like investors to believe, there are no examples of the proposed technology configuration being used successfully on the proposed mixed waste feedstock anywhere in the world.

“Given that Peel and Waste2Tricity admit that they do not know what went so badly wrong at Tees Valley, it is difficult to imagine how they will learn any lessons from that billion-dollar failure. We are not reassured that the problems Air Products encountered and could not overcome at Tees Valley would be avoided at Bilsthorpe."