I am an incomer and born-again Leither of barely two months, my change of denomination coming at the end of a five year residency in Craigmillar. Converting my loyalties from one maligned area to another boasting it’s own edgy cachet has prompted both jokes from my family and a personal urge to familiarise myself with all that is Leith.
When a friend of mine mentioned proposals were afoot to build a bio-mass powerplant locally, I was curious and I admit, alarmed, when I realised that the bedroom window of my new abode boasts a front-row view of it’s intended location. My Leither chum who has the community mindset of a meerkat, duly informed me that the company behind the proposal, Forth Energy, were to display their (in his eyes) dubious plans at Ocean Terminal the following week. At the first opportunity, off I trotted to investigate further.
I was intercepted by not one, but two very professional, informative and seemingly, frank representatives at the low-key (blink and you’ll miss it) presentation. They answered all questions and in turn, requested that I fill in a response sheet to their proposals before I left. So far, so satisfactory. But like a takeaway meal, an hour after consumption, I experienced major rumbles and pangs for more information and clarification, rather than an extra chow mein. Cue some enlightening and conflicting internet wanderings.
Forth Energy is the partnership venture between port operator and land owner Forth Ports and utilities company Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) formed in 2008. The initial drive was reported as joint research and development of renewable energy. Just two years on, they are on the point of putting theory into practice on a site previously earmarked for residential development or green space. Forth Ports worked with the City of Edinburgh Council for a number of years towards the approval of masterplans for the redevelopment of Leith Docks. The original impetus did include room for business and industry but their own press releases of the time made much of future housing requirements.
Two years on and much has happened in the world economy too, none of it very good. In Leith, the pinch is also being felt. The representatives at Ocean Terminal were quick to expound on the benefits of Forth Energy’s presence in Leith, the production of ‘clean’ energy, creation of local jobs in both construction and subsequent running of the proposed plant. They claim the project will keep the redevelopment of Leith going whilst the recession has, in effect, dried up sales in residential property. However, their zeal may not cheer those who have already invested in homes and lives a couple of hundred metres from the intended site, methinks.
When I asked about their choice of bio-mass as the renewable du jour and why they didn’t plump for wind-power, Forth Energy’s representatives pointed out that here, on the east coast of Scotland, one can’t rely on the wind to blow. Hadn’t it gone flat calm for five days over Christmas? Well, yes…
Three days later, I read with amusement, reports of a 2015 start to the construction of a wind-farm in the Forth – by a different company I presume – perhaps we should tell those poor dears that they can’t count on windy conditions? How could their research and development go so wrong?
Forth Energy may have been correct to point out a drop in residential property sales, but again, a few days after my jaunt to Ocean Terminal, the news is full of plans for Western Harbour. Raising £84 million through the controversial ‘tax incremental financing’ (TIF) scheme, our next-door-neighbours are still looking at residential developments and green spaces. Here, on the east side, we may be looking at a powerplant and smoke-stack.
An example of the physical reality is still unknown. They could not provide a model, photograph or even an exact artist’s impression because they themselves do not know what it will look like. Apparently, this would remain an enigma until contracts were tendered and a builder (and therefore, design) chosen. The display did include photographic examples of comparable plants throughout Europe and an artist’s impression (guesswork?) of how unobtrusive the edifice should be on the skyline of Edinburgh – the viewpoint being from – Edinburgh Castle – I kid you not. Admittedly, the B-listed grain silo making way (being flattened) for the plant is not pretty, unless you are into Stalinist architecture or The Battersea Power Station – but in a short time, I’ve grown accustomed to it’s face.
Anomalies abound in reports regarding bio-mass energy and it’s sustainability – some say it is cheap and renewable, others the complete reverse. This proposed plant would burn around 1.3 million tonnes of bio-fuel per annum, the majority of which would be shipped from North America as a timber by-product. The plan is to ship most of the materials by sea, which in itself has a significant effect on global warming and is behind other forms of transport in tightening it’s carbon belt.
Britain is currently incapable of producing enough timber for existing and planned bio-mass plants on her shores. Globally, less than 12% of our forests are part of any certificated scheme deeming them sustainably managed. Most of this timber supply is already committed to various ‘green’ wood users and companies. Forth Energy has not committed to certificated schemes and is planning another three bio-mass plants in Scotland on property owned by Forth Ports. Furthermore, the company has in reports (and at the local presentation) toyed with the possibility that twenty years down the line, a powerplant may not be viable and could always be torn down – not the most supportive argument in terms of sustainability, surely?
It is widely known that there are impressive financial subsidies available to renewable energy generators. Greener Leith calculated that a plant of this scale could potentially earn up to £14,876 per hour through ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates), awarded by the government and paid for (through fuel bills) by the utility company customers – you. In how many other ways will the Leith commnity be made to pay for this project?
Is this a case of profit before people dressed up as progress? Perhaps our prospective new neighbours shall be benign and industrious, if a little unsightly? Alternatively, like a family of lottery winning neds, they’ll move in, flash their cash, take over and disrupt the neighbourhood until the collective ire of the community serves up a powerplant sized ASBO…
Forth Energy will put it’s proposals to the council sometime in June…watch this space.
Would you like to air your views on this subject? We hope to interview interested parties in the run up to the application…that could be you. More details will be posted later.