Friday, 15 December 2017

Owner bids to allay fears over farm manure digester

PLANS for a manure-fuelled gas generator near Goring and Woodcote have been given their first public airing.

PLANS for a manure-fuelled gas generator near Ipsden have been given their first public airing.

Businessman David Bermingham wants to build an anaerobic digestion plant at Icknield Farm, about two miles north of Woodcote.

The £7 million scheme involves a pair of digesters, each almost 200ft wide and about 36ft tall with a domed roof. These would be filled with pig slurry and crop residue, which would ferment to produce methane and carbon dioxide.

The mixture would be pumped to a cleaning station on site, where the methane would be extracted and piped into an underground gas main.

The plant would produce enough gas to fuel about 3,000 homes a year, which is almost the combined population of Goring and South Stoke.

The site, off Icknield Road, measures under two hectares but would produce as much energy as 35 hectares of solar panels.

Mr Bermingham, from Goring, would run it as a business called Green Gas Oxon and would sell the gas to national suppliers under the Government’s new Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

If the development is given the go-ahead, he hopes Goring and South Stoke residents will receive a discount on their gas bills.

The carbon dioxide would initially be released into the atmosphere but it is hoped to sell it to the carbonated drinks industry in future. When it has fermented, the slurry and silage forms an odourless substance called digestate, which would be used as fertiliser. About 100 people attended a public consultation meeting at South Stoke village hall last week organised by 50-year-old Mr Bermingham.

He says he will read all the feedback before submitting a planning application to South Oxfordshire District Council. He intends to do this by the end of this month and hopes to start building by April with a view to opening the plant before the end of next year.

Mr Bermingham is working in partnership with Guy Hildred, the owner of Icknield Farm.

Mr Hildred will provide about half of the 10,000 tonnes of slurry that will be needed while the rest will come from neighbouring pig farmers.

Gas distribution company Scotia will be responsible for extracting the methane, piping it into the grid and ensuring the plant is run safely.

The plant would employ either or one or two people to run, maintain and supervise it.

Because it is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the digesters would be painted green to look like farm building and the site would be screened by hedges and trees.

Although there are many digester plants around the UK, only four currently supply gas to the national grid. The remainder burn the methane to generate electricity and make their money from the Government’s feed-in tariff.

Mr Bermingham said supplying gas was more efficient as 50 per cent of energy is lost through heat by generating electricity.

He said: “The gas-to-grid concept involves a relatively small footprint so you get considerably more bang for your buck in terms of land grab.

“In terms of the big picture, the local community benefits because we are doing something good for the environment.

“It also supports the local farming community by reducing the amount of chemical fertiliser that has to be spread on the land.

“The plant will be far less smelly than a typical farm. It’s taking 10,000 tonnes of slurry that would have been spread raw on to fields and deodorising it.”

Mr Bermingham admitted there would be more slightly traffic on Icknield Road as a result but said his company had carried out a survey and was confident it would not cause problems.

He said: “Most people’s concerns have centred on traffic but all we’re doing is shortening existing movements. It creates very little new traffic and will lead to an overall reduction of HGV road miles on local roads.”

Mr Bermingham said he was surprised by the reaction at last week’s meeting.

He said: “People turned up sceptical and left broadly supportive. You hear a lot of terrible stories about ‘Nimbyism’ but I haven’t been assailed by anybody yet.

“I don’t know whether that will last — I suppose the proof will be in the pudding when we submit an application. It’s very important to me that I get as much input as possible. We have already changed the plans slightly based on some people’s comments.”

Mr Hildred said: “People have been somewhat anxious about the smell and movements. It’s a new concept and that can be frightening for some people but I hope we’ve managed to explain what it’s all about.”

Geoff Ward, chairman of South Stoke Parish Council, said he backed the development in principle as residents had called for more renewable energy schemes in the 2010 village plan.

He said he and his colleagues would visit Benson, where a similar plant was opened by Agrivert last year, to see how it had affected the village.

Cllr Ward said: “It is potentially a very good scheme — we just need to ensure there are not going to be any problems with traffic, smell or visual impact.”

Geoff Botting, vice-chairman of Woodcote Parish Council, who attended the meeting, said: “I’m not against it personally. Some ordinary farm buildings can be quite large, so it should be okay provided it is sympathetic to the landscape.”

Kevin Bulmer, chairman of Goring Parish Council’s planning committee, said he was unaware of any concerns in the village.

Green Gas Oxon has promised to publish the results of its traffic survey. For more information, visit www.greengasoxon.co.uk

* Mr Bermingham was one of the so-called “NatWest Three”, a trio accused of stealing £7million from their employer NatWest. He was indicted in 2002 and extradited to America, where he spent 17 months in prison for wire fraud. He is now campaigning for a change in the extradition laws between Britain and the US. The trio maintain their innocence.

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