LATEST NEWS about the Prenergy Power Station - UPDATE Thursday 27th Spetember 2012

PT-RAPS has heard through unofficial channels within Neath Port Talbot Council that Prenergy has suddenly withdrawn its planning application to use wood pellet fuel at its planned 350MWe biomass power station in Port Talbot docks.


In August 2012, Prenergy announced that it was seeking further permission to use pellets (in addition to wood chip) and its planning application was put before the Neath Port Talbot Council planning committee on the 11th September. However to the company's dismay councillors unanimously voted to defer the decision. Concerns were raised about compatibility issues when storing damp and dry fuels together, and also the potential hazards from dry wood dust, which can be explosive when ignited by static electricity or sparks from electrical equipment [aspects that were not properly addressed by the company in their current planning application].

Councillors deferred the decision requesting that the developer supply more information and a second planning meeting was scheduled for November. However, this now looks very doubtful as PT-RAPS now understands from sources within the council that Prenergy has suddenly withdrawn its application to use pellets.

A Press statement was released 26th September by the Rev Jeremy Bailey, the spokesperson for PT-RAPS.

"The news that Prenergy Power have withdrawn their application to use wood pellets is greeted with great relief and a sense of victory by PT-RAPS. The statement that we are still waiting for is that they have pulled out of the project altogether, only then will we be truly satisfied that our town will be safe. The news confirms two things:

Firstly, that the Councillors from Sandfields East and Margam were right to investigate the details of this proposal to use wood pellets. All through this planning application we have seen how the broad development plans have been attractive to some people but when the detail is studied this project falls down and is exposed as unsustainable and dangerous. If our Councillors had not been on the mark we would be facing the prospect of a major fire, since the proposed storage sheds were not designed to hold wood pellets.

Secondly, if, as PT-RAPS suspects, this was an attempt by Prenergy to make the project more attractive to a potential buyer (since they have to sell before it is built and operated), it has clearly failed. There is not enough wood chip in the world for this plant, everyone knows that, and so they have tried to seek out another fuel. That has now failed to satisfy the Council. What does that say to any potential buyer? Simply that this Council will not be hoodwinked into accepting a crazy scheme to burn wood that has been transported half-way around the world just to try to meet green energy targets and line the pockets of businessmen".


Prenergy power station

Prenergy's 350MW biomass power station proposed for Port Talbot docks was originally awarded planning permission in 2007, but five years on, not a brick has been laid and no investor is willing to back the scheme. In October 2011 the Department of Energy and Climate Change was forced to admit in its white paper review of ROC subsidy banding for renewable energy projects that dedicated wood burning power stations (such as Prenergy's scheme) were far too expensive to build and were unlikely to be viable. Strangely Prenergy’s response to this has been to seek approval for a fuel type that is 30% more expensive than woodchip fuel.


Fire Safety of Residents

For a while now residents have been concerned by Prenergy's proposal to store 120-150,000 tonnes of wood fuel near local housing. A fire in the storage area the size of two large football stadiums would require the evacuation of large sections of the town in order to escape the lethal amounts of smoke.

The reality of the situation is that there have been at least 75 serious fire incidents at facilities handling fuel pellets in the last four years, including a fire at the Avedore power station in Copenhagen in August 2012 and the Tilbury biomass power station earlier in February. The fire at Tilbury power station only involved 2,000 tonnes of pellets but took 100 fire fighters a week to extinguish (see below left). Less well known is the fact that the newly opened RWE wood pellet plant in Georgia USA that supplied the Tilbury power station was itself subject to a fire just a few months earlier. These incidents can be devastating as the picture of a fire at the Lakeland wood pellet mill in Vancouver shows following a dust explosion and fire in April 2012 (see below right).

Tilbury fire   Lakeland pellett mill

The problem is that wood fuel pellets are made from fine dust and can break-up easily when handled. The fine dust, when mixed with air is explosive and can be ignited by a spark or static electricity. Thin layers of wood dust can ignite from contact with hot surfaces or objects little over 260 degrees Centigrade. Many residents believe that the act of loading (and unloading) 2 million tonnes of woodchip and pellets each year into the storage hangers will by its nature produce large amounts of fine wood dust, heightening the risk of a serious explosion and fire incident.

Although promises of best technology and practices are made by developers to satisfy the planners at the approval stage, these schemes do not seem to be convincing the insurance sector, which is keenly aware they will foot the bill if there is a serious incident. The problem is that multiple fire incidents have been regularly recorded at modern and up to date facilities, indicating that the situation cannot simply be solved by adding technology.


Canadian Biomass magazine article about the high numbers of fires and explosions occurring at pellet facilities: "Fire in the hole"

National Post website: Fatal sawdust blast in B.C. comes after five explosions at similar plants since 2009

Extracts from a Presentation by the Wood Pellet Association of Canada

The causes of these explosions and fires are varied (see pye chart below). Several articles can be found on the internet describing problems for pellet facilities finding insurance cover due to the spate of fire incidents and dust explosions .

Biomass power station caught in the act (of exploding) on U-Tube