Monday, 18 January 2021

Gas-fired power station could be built on disused farmland

Gas-fired power station could be built on disused farmland

A MINIATURE gas-fired power station could be built in the countryside near Goring.

Balance Power Projects, of Merseyside, is seeking planning permission for a “transitional hybrid energy project” on a piece of disused agricultural field to the west of Wallingford Road.

The 0.42-hectare site is next to Thames Water’s sewage processing plant and would be accessed by a new track off the main road, which would also serve the Hildred family’s “pick your own” farm to the south.

The farm’s old entrance would be removed and new hedgerows planted to fill the gap.

The scheme consists of four generators powered by natural gas, each housed within a secure container about 4.5m tall with a stainless steel chimney reaching up to 7m in height.

The applicant has told South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, that these would be screened off by trees and hedges to protect views of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The company’s landscape consultants admits there would be a “minor” to “moderate” impact on views initially but this would be mostly “negligible” after 15 years because of new plant growth.

The generators would connect to the National Grid to provide a source of back-up power at peak times during the day.

There would also be a large battery storage unit to store surplus energy from either the generators or the mains grid and redistribute it at times of shortage.

The plant would export between five and seven megawatts-electrical at peak times, less than half a per cent of the 2,000 MWe capacity of the former Didcot A coal-fired power station.

Such projects are only considered “nationally significant” if they generate more than 50 MWe, in which case they have to be approved by the Planning Inspectorate, a Government body.

Balance says the scheme is needed to help the country move to renewable forms of energy, such as solar panels, tidal power or wind turbines, which are more environmentally friendly but less reliable because they fluctuate.

Transitional hybrid stations are kept on standby until they are needed and typically have a lifespan of 25 to 35 years.

Balance says the site is ideal because it is near an electrical substation and solar array. This reduces the need for long cables, which would make the scheme less viable and power would be lost in transmission.

It is 160m from the nearest house. There are no public footpaths running across the land, it has the lowest possible flood risk and no trees would need to be felled.

The site wouldn’t be staffed but would be surrounded by a 2.5m palisade fence, painted green to match the containers, with a CCTV camera at each corner.

A team would visit fortnightly to carry out maintenance.

Balance says the plant could be built within six to nine months by contractors working from 8am to 8pm in the week, 8am to 1pm on Saturdays and on Sundays.

The generators would usually only run from 8am to 10pm and 4pm to 6pm up to a maximum of 3,000 hours a year.

In practice, the plant would be more likely to run only 1,500 hours but it could “rarely” be needed at any time, including at night. Balance says that any noise generated would be lower than background levels so neighbours wouldn’t hear anything while the air quality effects would be “not significant”.

It says: “The site benefits from existing screening to the north and west and is adjacent to existing built development.

“The proposal will help to reinforce the distribution network in the area and reduce the likelihood of power outages and support a further development of renewable energy generation locally.

“This will help to achieve national and local objectives by supporting the transition to low-carbon energy.

“Small-scale, fast-responding facilities can meet demand without the need for new, large-scale facilities which have much greater environmental impacts.”

When Balance sought pre-application advice, council planning officers backed the idea in principle but said the design of the plant must blend with its surroundings and the proposed access off the main road might need to be moved because drivers often exceed the speed limit in the area.

The officers said: “Given the surrounding infrastructure and need to locate this type of development close to it, I would broadly consider the site could accommodate a small-scale energy project of this type.

“While most of these smaller energy plants are still largely reliant on fossil fuels… the country’s fully renewable infrastructure is currently unable to support national demand and this transitionary phase is still contributing to a reduction in greenhouse emissions. The development would likely contribute a long-term enhancement to the environment by contributing to the country’s move to decentralise power generation.

“It would not constitute ‘major’ development but… this type of development is invariably not particularly attractive in a rural landscape and there seems to be long-distance views from elevated footpaths.

“I expect that, at a minimum, any final design would need to be appropriately mitigated through assimilation into the landscape.

“It seems feasible that the development has the capacity to impact on neighbours’ amenity through an increase in noise generation.”

Goring Parish Council is yet to comment on the appliation.

The district council is due to make a decision by February 2.

In 2016, the district council approved the Goring and Streatley Sustainability Group's proposal for a hydro-electric power plant at Goring weir.

The scheme, comprising three Archimedes screws across the water north of the bridge, would have generated about £100,000 worth of electricity in a year.

This would have been sold to the National Grid and the proceeds put towards local "green" projects but the plant was never built.

In 2013, the council gave permission for a manure-fuelled gas generator at Icknield Farm between South Stoke and Ipsden.

The £7 million plant ferments pig slurry and crop residue to generate enough methane for about 3,000 homes, which is sold to national suppliers.

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