‘We are reasonable people with reasonable questions’: Northampton power plant campaigners hit back

Artist's impressions of the proposed power plant in St James have been revealed, complete with an education centre.
Artist's impressions of the proposed power plant in St James have been revealed, complete with an education centre.
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Campaigners against a £160 million new power plant in St James have hit back at suggestions their concerns have been “irresponsible and wild”.

A vocal portion of the St James community have raised a number of issues about Rolton Kilbride’s plans to build a gasification plant at the Westbridge depot in recent months.

This week the company published a set of “frequently asked questions” on its website it claimed would dispel myths about the danger of fumes likely to come out of the smokestack, the safety record of similar plants and more.

Ian Crummack, for Rolton, said campaign groups such as No Monster Incinerator in St James had peddled “irresponsible and wild” claims about the plant, which they say had to address.

But that group has hit back, publishing a set of questions they want to now see answered.

A statement from the group said: “The members of the community who are questioning this incinerator scheme are reasonable people who have raised reasonable questions that Rolton Kilbride have not answered.”

Brian Calder from the group added: “If you stand back and look at what they have put on this fact sheet, they haven’t divulged any information really.”

As a result the campaign group issued a further set of questions to Rolton to answer.

The firm’s truncated replies are listed below.

Q1: Can Rolton Kilbride point out one example of this technology working successfully in the UK by any operator?

A: Gasification is a commercial manufacturing technology that has been used around the world to produce chemicals, fertilizers, transportation fuels, substitute natural gas, and electricity with more than 250 plants operating today with many individual process lines...Whilst there are no working plants of the particular equipment supplier for the proposed plant in the UK at the present time, there are more than 10 of this particular make of plant operating successfully in Japan, some of them for many years.

Q2: Will Rolton Kilbride limit its feed stock supply to only crisp packets and film plastic laminates only?

A: There are many different types of non-recyclable wastes and wastes that are impracticable to recycle, or for which there are no markets. These wastes are already mixed together, and the process of subsequent separation is neither technically feasible to recover materials which could be reprocessed, nor economically viable.

The only alternative for these materials (if they are not sent for energy recovery) is to send them to landfill, where they will create greenhouse gas (methane), or else take many years to break down (if at all) and provide a potential problem for future generations.

Q3: Can we agree food waste and cardboard contaminated with food waste should be composted and not buried or burnt?

A: Food waste is collected separately in many places in the UK (either by local authorities or by commercial organisations) and sent for anaerobic digestion (which is not composting).

This is an efficient way to recover energy and also produces a clean soil-like material, which can be used as a compost substitute under controlled circumstances.

However, most cardboard does not compost particularly easily (such as take-away pizza boxes) and the contamination process occurs at the packaging or consumer stage...The only practical method to recover energy from this material is to send it to the type of facility being proposed in Northampton, as the only other realistic destination is landfill.

Q4: Can we rule out incinerating food waste?

The proposed development will not accept separately collected food waste. In the UK, separately collected food waste is not sent for energy recovery by incineration or gasification, but is sent instead for anaerobic digestion (AD), another form of energy recovery. However, the AD process is very sensitive to contamination by other materials, such as small pieces of plastic, stones and grit, which build up inside the AD tank; thus the AD process is not suitable for other types of residual wastes.

Food waste, which is mixed up together (by the consumer) with residual wastes becomes inseparable, and thus becomes part of the RDF (suitable fuel for the Northampton power plant).

Q5: Would the facility be classed under the Industrial Emissions Directive as a Waste Incineration Plant?

The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) applies to many different types of industrial processes, and was published in 2010 to combine and replace seven existing EU Directives

governing pollution control. Its aim is to achieve significant environmental and public health benefits by reducing emissions across the European Union Member States, in particular through better application of Best Available Techniques.

The IED thus applies equally to qualifying industrial techniques such as incineration and gasification, as well as other processes. It could be described as a ‘Highway Code,’ which applies equally to all ‘users of the road’; once it is clear that a process falls under IED, further internal classification is not required.

Q6: Would the facility release CO2?

A: Yes, but a lesser amount than that released if the RDF were sent to a landfill. This is one of the benefits of energy recovery from RDF, since the power generated by the gasification process will offset that produced by other means, which use fossil fuels.

It should be noted that over 50% of the RDF is biomass or organic material that cannot be reprocessed.

Q7: If the development results in reductions in property value, would the company be willing to compensate the homeowners?

A: There is no credible evidence that facilities of this nature devalue residential or other nearby properties. The mixture of factors which dictate property values is highly complex, and macro factors such as the state of the economy, interest rates and local housing demand have an overriding influence on individual property values.

Q8: Rolton Kilbride mention c. 133 of ‘Such Facilities’ could Rolton Kilbride clarify as to how many of those ‘Such Facilities’ use the same gasification technology proposed for

Northampton?

A: Whilst there are no working plants of the particular equipment supplier for the proposed plant in the UK at the present time, there are more than 10 of this particular make of plant operating successfully in Japan, some of them for many years 

Q9: (Reffering to the Frequently Asked Questions section of Rolton Kilbride’s website) We are not sure whose frequently asked questions are they? They certainly are not from the community

A: The frequently asked questions are created for two reasons: firstly, to inform the reader about the intended purpose and location of the proposed facility, and secondly from experience of other similar developments in the UK, where communities have asked questions.

It is the duty of any developer to provide transparent and open information about the proposed facility in question.

Q10: The question we get asked most frequently is that Peter Rolton on behalf of Rolton Kilbride said he would not go to war with the community and if local residents didn’t want it they would not proceed with their plans. The local community has made it clear they don’t want it so the only question is, is he a man of his word? Yes or no?

A: There is a well-established local planning system in the UK, which is the accepted mechanism for deciding whether or not facilities of this nature should be granted planning consent. Once submitted, the planning application will be subject to wide consultation with relevant organisations such as the Environment Agency, who will send their opinion to the planning authority (Northamptonshire County Council).

The application will also be open to public scrutiny, and subject to further additional public consultation. The developer would not wish for any of Peter Rolton’s comments to be taken out of context, as his specific responses in this case were made in the context of a particular conversation. It is absolutely the case that Rolton Kilbride will work within the letter and spirit of the planning system, which is widely recognised as giving everyone the chance to offer an opinion and feedback on any proposed developments, that are bought forward.

Q 11: So far the developer has broken promises over free heat, free energy, lorry numbers, stack emissions, fuel /feedstock types and tried to minimise visual and environmental impact how we can now trust anything they say?

A: The planning application is not yet submitted and the plans not yet finalised. There will be another round of consultation with statutory consultees and the public.

All developers engage in consultation to understand questions and concerns and make appropriate changes during the planning consultation period in response. The process of describing and explaining the proposed facility is under way. Through this consultation process, the developer is committed to responding to any and all questions about the application, and (where possible) to making adjustments to the design in order to minimise the impact on the environment and the surrounding community. The developer would not wish for any of the steps in this wide-ranging consultation process to be taken out of context. The process of public and statutory engagement is a critical part of the planning process and the developer takes its duties to inform and explain seriously.

Note that if granted planning consent (following due consideration and further consultation), the consent document will contain a list of extensive conditions with which the developer will have to comply.