Welsh Green Dragon

Protesters blockade Port Talbot Biomass Plant by Chris Halpin

It seems the guys at Climate Camp Cymru have been at work again, this time at the Western Wood Biomass plant in Port Talbot. Three people were arrested after climate change activists used bicycle locks to chain themselves to the gates of the wood burning plant to prevent the hourly 20 tonne wood chip delivery that is required to keep it in operation. Others scaled the chimney revealing a banner saying ‘Clean Energy:Dirty Joke’ in Welsh.

Biomass could be a viable answer to contribute to a more sustainable way of producing energy, but only if the wood for burning is sustainably sourced or recycled from horticultural waste.The plant at Port Talbot is a smaller ‘pilot’ plant which if deemed successful will pave the way for two larger sites to be developed in Wales. One will be a £400 million plant close by which will burn wood that can provide power for up to 500,000 homes, with construction set to start next year. Another proposed is in Holyhead where Anglesey aluminium wants a facility to burn wood for the smelting process.

At the moment all wood sourced for the Port Talbot plant comes from sources in the UK, but campaigners believe that with the introduction of larger plants, timber would have to be imported from overseas where it would be harder to guarantee it has come from a sustainable source.

Undercurrents Alternative News produced this package on the latest protest.

One campaigner, Ioan Gwyn, 29 said: “The power companies said the wood will come from sustainable sources but the reality is very different. In 2008 about 9 million hectares of industrial tree plantations have been certified as sustainable despite evidence of their devastating effects on people and the environment [1]. These plantations are in fact green deserts: they consume vast amounts of water and are empty of native wildlife.”

It seems like somewhat of a paradox that biomass energy has been feted as a renewable energy source. As with biofuels, it is only truly renewable if the combustible material is waste from other uses. Smaller scale community based biomass projects harvesting vegetation waste like the BedZED development in South London have even had their problems. Questions must then be raised on the ethics behind scaling up such a process for mass energy production. For the companies involved it will obviously have to be an industrially lucrative venture, but at what expense?

Rob Goodsell, 33 said, “The Port Talbot and Holyhead biomass plants will require an area of dedicated biomass plantations half the size of Wales. A land area this size could feed up to a third of the population of Britain. With the world facing serious food security issues in coming years this is crazy.”

Seemingly the bigger the beast, the bigger the feast.

[1] “Can we trust the FSC?” the Ecologist: http://www.theecologist.org/trial_investigations/325243/can_we_trust_the_fsc.html


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