The construction of a wood-fuelled combined heat and power (CHP) station in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, was given the go ahead yesterday (29 July), after the Foresight Group and the UK Green Investment Bank plc (GIB) invested £20 million into the £81 million project.
The investment has enabled the Evermore Renewable Energy CHP to be built on a ten-acre site at the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners land at Lisahally. The project is forecast to be the largest renewable energy project in Northern Ireland, and is expected to operate from 2015 to 2035.
According to the GIB, the 15.8 megawatt project - its first investment in Northern Ireland - will increase renewable electricity generation in the country by around 10 per cent, and deliver a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of around 3.7 million tonnes.
Partner funders include GCP Infrastructure Fund Ltd, Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A/S (BWSC), Investec Bank, and Eksport Kredit Fonden.
The CHP project, led by Evermore Renewable Energy (a subsidiary of the Evermore Group, founded in 2009) aims to supply enough renewable electricity to power more than 25,000 homes each year, create 200 construction jobs and over 20 full time jobs once in operation.
Speaking of the project, Ciaran and Stephen Devine, co-founders of the Evermore Group commented: "We are making a serious commitment to the Northern Ireland energy market. Working with the best partners in technology, fuel supply and financing, we hope to show that Northern Ireland is a great place to do business so that further inward investment will follow.
"This is the culmination of many years of hard work to develop and finance the largest green energy power station in Northern Ireland. Our ability to attract this level of investment into Northern Ireland is testament to our team's commitment and skill in both project development and project financing. This now marks the start of the construction phase and with that the creation of over 200 much needed construction jobs in the North West."
They added that work should begin on the project in the ‘next six to eight weeks’.
‘Landmark moment’ for GIB
Speaking of the investment, Shaun Kingsbury, Chief Executive of the UK Green Investment Bank, said: “[This] announcement will substantially increase Northern Ireland’s renewable energy capacity. Not only will the project save the same amount of carbon as taking around 77,000 cars off the road, it will also make use of over two million tonnes of wood, a valuable energy resource that would otherwise have gone to landfill.”
The recycled wood (largely recovered from the construction and demolition industry) will be supplied under a fuel contract with Stobart Biomass Products Limited. Provision is being made to use up to 30 per cent of local wood biomass.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "The first deal done in Northern Ireland is a landmark moment for the UK Green Investment Bank and I'm confident that there will be more to come."
Northern Ireland's Energy Minister Arlene Foster added: "The Evermore plant will make an important contribution towards Northern Ireland's 2020 renewable energy targets.
"It is a wonderful example of local, national and international co-operation and I am particularly pleased to note that this is the first Northern Ireland project to secure funding from the Green Investment Bank."
The investment comes from the UK Waste Resources & Energy Fund (UKWREI), managed by investment management company Foresight, in which the GIB is the cornerstone investor.
Launched in November 2012, the Green Investment Bank was given £3.8 billion of funding from the UK Government to support environmentally-friendly projects that cannot obtain sufficient funding from the markets. The GIB provides investment for renewable and low-carbon technologies such as offshore wind, energy from waste, non-domestic energy efficiency as well as biofuels for transport, biomass power, carbon capture and storage, marine energy and renewable heat projects.
Despite the GIB investment, Secretary of State for Energy Security Edward Davey has previously told the BBC that biomass was a temporary solution to meet climate targets while renewable energy systems were being developed. Indeed, government recently announced that grants for existing biomass plants are being capped at 400 megawatts (MW), and that there will be no renewable heat incentive (RHI) tariffs for new biomass plants.
“Making electricity from biomass based on imported wood is not a long-term answer to our energy needs – I am quite clear about that”, he said.
Biomass ‘dirtier than coal’
Biomass has been a controversial choice of renewable energy, with a joint report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, titled 'Dirtier than Coal',suggesting that biomass derived from virgin wood may be more polluting than coal. Indeed, the government’s own statistics suggest that burning whole trees can result in 49 per cent more emissions than burning coal.
Harry Huyton, RSPB Head of Climate Policy, explained: “When trees are burnt in power stations, CO2 [carbon dioxide] comes out of the chimney, just like it does when you burn coal. The difference is that the wood is less energy dense and is wetter than coal, so it takes a lot more energy to harvest, transport, process, and finally burn it.
“Government has justified burning trees in power stations by claiming the chimney emissions are offset by the carbon that the forest takes in when it regrows after being harvested, but this is misleading. It can take decades, if not centuries, for the trees to recapture that carbon, leaving us with more emissions in the atmosphere now – when we least need it.”