A £6.5 million scheme to develop the UK’s first successful bio-energy power plant in Staffordshire, using miscanthus or “elephant grass” as fuel, has received a major cash boost from Advantage West Midlands.
The groundbreaking project to build the two-megawatt generator at the Raleigh Hall Industrial Estate, in Eccleshall, near Stafford, will boost the local rural economy by enabling around 170 farms to diversify into energy crops.
Miscanthus, a long-term crop of perennial woody grass which gives high yields for at least 20 years, will power a steam-turbine generator capable of supplying around 2,000 local homes with electricity.
Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands has now approved a £935,000 grant to Eccleshall Biomass Ltd towards the construction of the power plant later this year. The project has also received public sector capital grants from the DTI and DEFRA and private sector investment.
Eccleshall Biomass Ltd is a partnership of two well-established Staffordshire firms, Raleigh Hall Properties and Talbott’s Heating Ltd. The biomass project also saw the creation of BiEcc Ltd, a company set up by local farmers to develop opportunities in growing miscanthus cane.
Amanda Gray, Director of Eccleshall Biomass Ltd, said: “There has been a determined team effort to get this project off the ground. It’s of major importance to rural industry, not just in Staffordshire but across the whole country.
“We believe that biomass offers a tru alternative to power generated by wind farms. Energy crops offer a genuinely sustainable and environment-friendly alternative source of business to farmers as well as helping to meet our obligations in reducing carbon emissions.
”Funding is in place, Stafford Borough Council has given planning permission and we only require confirmation of an acceptable Power Purchase Agreement for the project to proceed.”
Marie Greer, Director for Staffordshire at Advantage West Midlands, said: “Agricultural activities account for nearly 75 per cent of land use in the region and play an important role in sustaining the economy.
“A key role of the Agency is to secure regeneration of rural areas – and the Eccleshall Biomass project will play a vital role in enabling farmers to diversify into the fuel supply chain, offering seasonal employment in planting and harvesting in the local community.
“With the support of the Agency’s Environmental Technologies Cluster, this is a superb opportunity for the region to take a major lead in creating a new market for alternative crops and developing the renewable energy industry.”
Talbott’s Heating Ltd, which employs 40 people at its factory in Stafford, has 30 years experience in manufacturing energy systems.
Bob Talbott, the company chairman, said the 2-MW generator – built from parts sourced in the West Midlands – would operate for 8,000 hours per year on a 24 hour basis but had been designed to ensure there would be no additional noise nuisance above existing background noise.
Emissions had been voluntarily set to a higher standard than the regulatory requirements for air quality and there would be no visible steam plume or odour emitted from the stack. The plant also saves one tonne per hour of carbon dioxide which would be emitted generating electricity from fossil fuel.
The local farmers’ co-operative, BiEcc Ltd, has been established to grow energy crops and has received expert guidance and advice from Devon-based BiCal, the largest miscanthus growers in Europe.
John Braithwaite, BiEcc’s chairman, said: “There were sceptics among the farming community three years ago when the idea was first hatched but with the input of BiCal, miscanthus has been identified as offering the most profitable option as the energy crop of choice for the power station at Raleigh Hall.
“BiEcc represents around 40 farmers in Staffordshire and Shropshire but we expect that number to grow. We estimate that up to 1,700 hectares of land within a 25-mile catchment area could be devoted to the crop.”
Diane Brown, Stafford Biomass Project Officer at Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said: “Farmers can expect a balanced income stream from miscanthus because in addition to its use as an energy source, it also has a number of commercial uses including bedding and the plastics industry.
”It can be grown on set-aside and offers a simple form of diversification. Grants of £920 per hectare are also available for growing miscanthus from the DEFRA Energy Crops Scheme.”
(Cf. news of Aug. 11, 2005.)
Source: Advantage West Midlands Jan. 26, 2006.