No Leith Biomass Plant
  • Co-firing power stations HAVE to burn whole trees.

    Almuth Ernsting of BioFuelWatch has learned more about the hidden story behind the rush to biomass, and the likely effect it will have on forests, worldwide:

    "Through a Freedom of Information request, we have just obtained documents which Drax had sent to the UK government and which explain why they're investing primarily in wood pellets from North America - and why other energy companies investing in coal-to-biomass conversions or large-scale co-firing are doing the same, rather than investing in pellets from eucalyptus, other fast-growing trees or any type of SRC (apart from very small amounts of miscanthus and straw having been co-fired).

    According to one document, sent to the government in May 2012 and called "Summary Information about Boiler Corrosion, Slagging and Fouling" the only type of biomass that can be burned in coal power stations in any significant quantities is wood from slow-growing trees with a low bark content.

    The reason, as Drax's technical document explains, is that biomass combustion releases different chemicals than coal combustion. Those include alkali salts which over time corrode/destroy the boilers. I just found a picture which shows what burning straw does to a coal power station boiler: . Keeping alkali salt levels down is thus essential for burning biomass in coal power stations. According to the document, short-rotation coppicing, grasses, agricultural residues, bark and fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus are unsuitable because of the alkali salt levels. Firing tests showed that only wood from slow-growing trees with little bark is suitable - this mightchange in future, if ways of preventing corrosion despite high alkali salt levels are found, or it might never change.

    So they've got little alternative to burning wood from whole trees from temperate and boreal forests then. Another Drax document states that for sourcing, they are primarily looking to North America, since UK and European wood supply is too small. They say that Russia is another potential sourcing region but that they see problems with risks and of infrastructure (so in future we could see growing demand for/investment in Russia, too). They do not consider South America or Africa to be particularly 'promising' because they can't burn eucalyptus or wood from other fast-growing trees.

    This means the pressures on North American forests will be even greater in future than we'd expected.

    Please note that (as the documents highlights) that those limitations specifically apply to boilers designed for burning coal. In Europe, the main companies investing in that sector are E.On, GDF Suez, Vattenfall, Drax and RWE.

    Purpose-built biomass power stations, on the other hand, can burn a whole range of biomass. Indeed, if companies investing in coal-conversions and large-scale co-firing are now all looking for pellets from North America then companies investing in dedicated biomass power stations will be more likely to look for other supplies. Those, I expect, are likely to be pellets from eucalyptus and other tree plantations in Brazil, West Africa (with some investments already happening) and I imagine could one day include pellets from GE eucalyptus from the US, should this get commercial approval. The plans for dedicated biomass power stations are also gigantic. In the UK, the main ones are by MGT Power (300 MW approved, with finance, and another 300 MW proposed), Helius Energy (100 MW approved but not yet with finance, another 100 MW proposed) and Forth Energy (300 MW proposed, likely to get finance if approved).

    Based on this, I think we can therefore expect two quite separate biomass markets to emerge: One for biomass for coal power stations, that will rely largely on whole trees from North America, some from the EU and potentially from Russia - and the other for dedicated biomass power stations where companies will increasingly be looking for wood from South America and Africa. Of course, the indirect impacts of such a vast new demand for wood from temperate and boreal forests will be felt in Southern countries, too."

  • Fight to prevent subsidies for Biomass

    The latest activity on the biomass front, in Scotland, is to try to persuade the Scottish Government NOT to award subsidies to large scale biomass power stations, regardeless of what type they are (e.g. use some heat, instead of wasting it all, and so qualify to be called 'combined heat and power (CHP); or replacing some proportion of the coal previously burned in older power stations ('co-firing'). It seems Scottish Government is as yet undecided on this matter, so we hope that their views can still be influenced.

    Read the Press Release issued today jointly by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Biofuelwatch, the No Leith Biomass Campaign and Grangemouth Community Council.

  • New Biofuelwatch Report – Sustainable Biomass: A Modern Myth

    An excellent new report on biomass has just been published and launched by Biofuelwatch. It draws all the research and arguments together and looks set to become the 'Biomass Bible'. You can download the full report - it's BIG (4.75MB) - or a smaller Report file (no pics) or the Executive Summary.

  • New Scottish Government Policy on ROS (subsidies)

    Today, 13th September, Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, made a statement announcing Scottish Government decisions on Renewables Obligation (Scotland), known as the ROS (that is, subsidies). As expected, subsidies have been removed from large scale electricty-only biomass. A capacity ceiling of 10 MW will be introduced for wood fuelled dedicated biomass stations. This is good news as far as it goes, and should rule out the proposed Forth Energy power stations.

    BUT - and this is a BIG but - there are loopholes leading to the continuation of subsidy for large scale imported biomass if a plant is classed as "good quality CHP" (combined heat and power). But no discussion of what is "good quality" or who makes that decision. (And although the EU recommends 70% efficiency, only 35% efficiency has been the past been accepted as "good quality"!) On that basis, Forth Energy would receive generous subsidies for Grangemouth, Rosyth and Dundee.

    Also massive subsidies will be available for biomass when this is in the context of a change to co-firing biomass alongside coal.

    Read the full report here..

  • Protest against Public Subsidies for Biomass, 19 April 2012

    A coalition of anti-biomass groups are planning a peaceful protest against public subsidies for big biomass outside the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 19th April 2012 at 12.30 pm.

    Come and join us!

    Download the 'No Subsidies for big Biomass' A4 poster from our Resources page (top of the list), print it out, stick on a cardboard box side, and bring it along as a placard to the protest on Thursday.

    No Leith Biomass, Biofuelwatch, Friends of the Earth, and Grangemouth Community Council are asking others to join them in trying to persuade MSPs not to let what looks like a low profile and obscure piece of business slide unnoticed through the Economy, Energy & Tourism Committee.

    In fact it is an issue that will significantly affect Scotland's future, as regards biomass. There is just a short window of time before a decision is taken in Parliament on energy subsidies. Scottish Government has spoken up against subsidies for electricity-only biomasss, but there are two loopholes that would let huge subsidies continue, for combined heat and power (CHP) biomasss and for co-firing of biomass alongside coal, at an efficiency level of only 35%.

    Such subsidies could cost Scottish fuel users £300 million every year, and would create an articially inflated demand for wood in a 'biomass boom' bringing catastrophic environmental and human rights consequences

    The protest is in support of MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith Malcolm Chisholm's recent motion S4M-02411. Malcolm's motion expresses concern about large scale biomass involving the import of millions of tonnes of timber, to alert Scottish Government to the loopholes in current and proposed subsidies for CHP and co-fired biomass, and to urge removal of all subsidies for biomass unless they meet the European Directive's minimum efficiency rating of 70%.

  • MP Congratulates Community Campaign Against Biomass Plan


    MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has praised community activists who have fought plans to build a biomass power plant at Leith Docks.

    Forth Energy, a joint venture between Forth Ports and SSE, proposed constructing a large scale biomass plant on undeveloped land at Leith Docks. Forth Energy today pulled the plans in anticipation of new plans for the former Port of Leith.

    Ms Gilmore, who has referred to the plans as "greenwash" in the past, welcomes Forth Energy's decision to withdraw the plans.

    Commenting on the decision, Ms Gilmore, who submitted her own objection to the plans and has campaigned consistently against the plans, congratulated residents:

    " Activists and residents across Leith have fought tirelessly to block these plans for a biomass fired power station by Forth Energy. With very few funds the No Leith Biomass group have been able to reach out to the whole community in Leith and the rest of Edinburgh. I hope they are truly proud that their efforts have been successful.

    This is a true David and Goliath tale. I want to pass on my congratulations to everyone who signed a petition, hung a poster in their shop window, or wrote an objection to the Scottish Government.

    Forth Energy's plans would have been a blight on Edinburgh's skyline and were incompatible with the Scottish planning framework.

    If Forth Energy do come back with any further plans for Leith Docks, they need to take this opportunity to back genuinely renewable energy projects."

    For further information contact David Raine (Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP)

  • Forth Energy Withdraws Current Renewable Energy Plant Application for the Port of Leith


    Forth Energy announces today (Thursday, 9th February 2012) that, in light of new proposals to develop the Port of Leith as a hub for offshore renewable energy manufacture and support and the consequent demand for space at the Port, it has written to the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit withdrawing its current application for permission to build a combined heat and power (CHP) plant at Leith.

    Forth Energy – the joint venture between Forth Ports Limited and SSE plc – will re-assess the potential for renewable energy production at the Port of Leith, owned by Forth Ports, once the full configuration of renewables companies locating at the Port has been finalised, land availability has been re-evaluated and the demand for renewable energy has been assessed.

    The Port of Leith has been identified by Scottish Enterprise as Scotland’s top location for renewables manufacturing under the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan; is the subject of a Memorandum of Understanding between Scottish Enterprise, City of Edinburgh Council and Forth Ports; and is within the Scottish Government’s recently-announced Low Carbon / Renewables East Enterprise Area.

    Forth Ports and SSE remain committed, through their joint venture project, Forth Energy, to developing wood-fuelled CHP plants at the Ports of Grangemouth, Rosyth and Dundee.

    Calum Wilson, Managing Director of Forth Energy, said:

    “Much has changed since we first applied for permission to build a CHP plant at Leith, not least the Port’s emerging status as a hub to support the Scottish offshore renewable energy industry.

    “We remain fully committed to bringing reliable, responsible, renewable heat and electricity to Scotland through our proposed developments at the Ports of Grangemouth, Rosyth and Dundee and, in the process, assisting the Scottish Government in achieving its ambitious 2020 renewable energy targets. Once the configuration of the Port of Leith has been established, we will re-assess the opportunity and industrial demand for renewable energy and heat at the Port.”

    Charles Hammond, Chief Executive of Forth Ports, said:

    “The level of demand from renewables companies keen to locate at the Port of Leith means that it is appropriate that we draw breath while we see how the land configuration at the port evolves.

    “We are fully committed to supporting the Scottish Government’s strategy for renewables manufacturing and our joint decision to withdraw this application at this stage will help to facilitate the Port of Leith’s role as a renewables hub.”

    Further Enquiries: Debbie Johnston, Spreng & Co

  • Official Update from City of Edinburgh Council - at last!

    City of Edinburgh Council is a 'statutory consultee' in the process of seeking planning permission for a biomass plant in Leith. If Edinburgh City Council objected, a public enquiry would be called. But City of Edinburgh Council has not seen fit to keep concerned citizens informed of its position. As the proposed December date for debate of the Biomass application drew ever nearer, the No Leith Biomass campaign repeatedly asked City of Edinburgh Councillors and officials what was happening. We knew that Forth Energy was likely request an extension, but there was no official notice of this.There was no response for weeks but eventually confirmation came. Today, the Council has released to Councillors a written update on the situation, confirming that they will not now comment on Forth Energy's application until 30 June 2012.

    We think the Council's first duty is to its citizens and tax-payers, not to big business, and we will look for better communication and information on this issue over the next six months. T

  • It's NOT Acceptable - a Guest Blog by Biofuelwatch's Emilia Hanna

    I never thought that trying to save the world would involve donning cobalt blue eyeshadow, woolly leg warmers, and blindingly bright 1980s gear! Thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Hannah Kitchen and her recent ‘video-shoot’ stunt, it did. Saturday morning saw Friends of the Earth Scotland staff and volunteers strutting our stuff in the cold outside Parliament performing a spoof of the Calvin Harris hit, ‘It was Acceptable in the 80s’, complete with subverted lyrics and a full dance routine. You can check the performance out at:

    Four of the crew dressed up as Scotland’s biggest ‘climate criminals’ and danced and pranced and boasted about how they were ‘stuck in the 80s’ in their approaches to development, when it was still acceptable to deny climate change.

    The climate criminals who were spoofed included Calum Wilson, no stranger to the No Leith Biomass Campaign: CEO of Forth Energy, which plans to burn 5.3 million tonnes of wood in Scottish biomass power stations.

    I loved taking part in this action. It showed how it’s possible to draw attention to pressing environmental issues without having to necessarily get arrested or cause trouble, but through having fun and keeping positive.

    Of course, behind the fun is very serious message, which we hope gets conveyed through our cheesy dance moves and hair spray. If the public has managed to leave perms and bad fashion behind, then it’s time for political leaders to leave outdated attitudes towards development behind too. When it is common knowledge that we must protect the world’s forests in our bid to save the world from catastrophic climate change, it seems more ludicrous than lycra that the Forth Energy proposals which rely on felling trees are even on the table.

    In the meantime, the Climate Change Committee, which advises Westminster on adaptation and mitigation strategies towards climate change yesterday published its long-awaited ‘Bioenergy Review’ which can be accessed at It is a harsh blow to environmental campaigners that the Review recommends an increase of biomass of up to 100TWh by 2050 – this is an unprecedented amount, and a target that will see power stations across the UK guzzle around 125 million tonnes of biomass each year; over ten times the amount of wood that the UK has in the first place.

    However, there might be good news in the Review for NLBC: The report recommends, ‘There should be limited if any support for new large-scale dedicated biomass generation’ – good leverage for the Campaign.

    Finally, a reminder that if members of the public want to have their say on the Consultation about the level of support given to biomass in Scotland, they must do so before January 13th. Take the Biofuelwatch cyberaction at Even better, write your own response!

    Emilia Hanna, Biomass Campaigner at Biofuelwatch & Friends of the Earth Scotland member

  • End Biomass Subsidies!

    NOW! We have a unique opportunity to take action that could drive Forth Energy out once and for all - from Leith, and perhaps also from Grangemouth, Rosyth and Dundee!

    The system of taxpayer subsidies to renewable energy producers is currently under review. These subsidies are known as Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) or, in Scotland, Renewable Obligations (Scotland) or ROS. There is a new Scottish consultation just opened, to ask people what they think about the subsidies. The Scottish Government recently announced proposals that could reduce or completely remove renewable energy subsidies from large, electricity-only biomass fueled power plants, such as the one proposed for Leith.

    Without the enormous subsidies - which could add up to £1billion in subsidies over the twenty year lifespan of the power plant (over and above profits from selling the electricity) - the business plans for the Leith Biomass plant might look considerably less attractive to Forth Energy. (Forth Energy CEO Calum Wilson said at a meeting back in 2010 that the proposed Leith biomass plant "would not be commercially viable" without the subsidies.)

    The consultation is open from now until early January 2012, see more details here (Biomass is in Section 3).

    The No Leith Biomass campaign group will be responding, as are many other environmental groups. Individuals and community groups should also respond. It is easy to do as the Consultation poses specific questions for you to answer, you don't even need to plan and write from scratch. Here is Greener Leith's Draft response, for starters, to get you going!

    Or just watch this space for more news soon on other ways to support the campaign to remove these subsidies!


What can I do? Click the blue button to sign the 2012 Petition, to persuade MSPs to oppose subsidising big biomass in Scotand