Northampton power plant will be ‘safe’ despite traces of mercury coming out the chimney

One of the artists' impressions shows how the proposed power plant in St James would look.
One of the artists' impressions shows how the proposed power plant in St James would look.

Air quality experts say mercury and sulphur dioxide is likely to come out of the smokestacks of a planned new power plant in Northampton - but at a “safe level.”

The firm carrying out the long awaited air quality report for Rolton Kilbride’s proposed waste-to-energy facility at the Westbridge Depot, finally revealed some of their findings at a public exhibition in St James yesterday.

One of the artists' impressions shows how the proposed power plant in St James would look.

One of the artists' impressions shows how the proposed power plant in St James would look.

It had been hoped Air Quality Consultants, the firm commissioned to carry out an “independent” assessment of the plant’s potential dangers, would come armed with its full findings. But instead director for the firm Chris Whall could only reveal “headline” findings from the in-progress report yesterday.

There have been fears the gasification plant could emit harmful toxins such as nitrogen dioxide, mercury, sulphur dioxide and lead. Mr Whall said it is likely it will - but claims the amounts coming out will only be of a trace amounts well within EU emissions guidance.

He said: “On the basis of the modelling we have undertaken around the smokestacks I can confirm that they won’t be of a harmful level.

“It will be below the levels harmful to health - and take mercury for example - it will be below the amount of concentration in the ambient air.

“They will be using the latest technology, filtering systems and carbon scrubbing devices, which will actually stop a lot of the harmful toxins forming.”

The exhibition yesterday also saw Developers Rolton Kilbride unveil five possible designs for the plant.

All of them feature an 80 metre chimney to disperse fumes higher up in the atmosphere.

But despite early projections stating there would be 70 lorry movements in and out of the plant - yesterday it was confirmed there would actually be 110 juggernauts delivering waste to the plant and taking away.

Last month business owners at the Westbridge Depot - who will be moved to make way for the power plant - said the lorries would add to the congestion on St James Mill Road.

Director of Rolton Kilbride Peter Rolton said the lorries would enter and exit the plant via Edgar Mobbs Way so they do not pass residential areas in St James, which already suffer from poor air quality.

But he claims the early reports from the air quality assessment show that the power plant will not be harmful to health. He said: “If people read the information properly and consider the evidence carefully, I hope this reassures them that the plant is not going to affect their air quality.

“We will be taking (emissions) up 80 metres and dispersing them up there in the atmosphere - not down here on the ground.”

As regards the businesses at Westbridge depot, Mr Rolton said he is now “almost certain” they would have to move to make way for the plant.

Asked whether he regretted not consulting more widely with the Westbridge depot’s current tenants, he said: “They are not for me to consult with - the borough council offered us this site. They are not compulsory purchasing anyone - they are effectively changing the lease on the site. I am not in a position to help them.”

But with hundreds of new homes set to be built around Northampton in the coming years, Mr Rolton was asked why did he want to put the power plant in the town centre - rather than serving new developments in the countryside.

Houses in St James, Far Cotton and Sol Central are expected to receive cheap heat when the power plant is up and running in around 2020.

He said: “New homes are energy efficient, but this is a chance to get heat into houses that are not built that way cost effectively.”

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There is no such thing as a clean power plant says Green Party

Mercury and lead out the smokestack? 110 lorry movements a day? A gasification plant can never be “clean” argues a former town MP.

The Green Party’s foreign affairs spokesman Tony Clarke has dismissed the early headlines from Air Quality Consultant’s reports - even though they show the plant’s emissions will likely conform with EU law. He said the laws do not recognise the possible effects micro traces of toxins such as mercury, or nitrogen dioxide can have on the body.

~He said: “What we do know is that these particles are so fine, that they can pass through the linings of your lungs and go into your bloodstream. Once they are there they stay there.

“A simple one off exposure is not going to do any harm.

“But do the people of St James really want to take the risk breathing that in 24 hours a day?”

Air Quality Consultants say the traffic in St James will emit more of the said toxic particles.

But next week Mr Clarke will hold a presentation to argue the case against the power plant, at the next St James Residents’ Association meeting on, April 14.

He said that similar plants in Japan using older technology have been shut down by authorities there over emissions levels. There are also concerns over where the fly ash created by the Rolton Kilbride plant when waste is burned, would be dumped.

Rolton Kilbride will charge the county council £50 less per tonne to dispose of its non-recyclable waste as opposed to landfill, the company director claims.

However it will also tie the council in to delivering a certain tonnage of waste a year - or face sanctions.