Saturday, 27 February 2021
A PROPOSED gas-fired power plant on the outskirts of Goring wouldn’t be as environmentally friendly as the applicant says, according to the parish council.
It says the scheme would cause unnecessary air pollution, be a noise nuisance to neighbours and spoil views of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The council also says it would offer few “green” benefits in return and that there are less harmful ways to achieve its goal of providing back-up power for renewable energy sources.
Balance Power Projects, of Merseyside, wants to build the plant on farmland immediately north of the Hildred family’s pick-your-own farm off Wallingford Road, next to the Thames Water sewage works.
Known as a “transitional hybrid energy project”, it would comprise four large gas generators, each with a 7m chimney, which would create energy to cover periods when solar, tidal or wind farms aren’t contributing to the National Grid.
The plant would have a single large battery to store excess charge.
The parish council has urged South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, to refuse consent, saying it would be better to just build a series of batteries and no generators.
It is also upset that planning officers suggested to Balance that the development might be acceptable.
In a letter of pre-application advice, officers said there was a “presumption in favour” of renewable or low-carbon projects.
However, the parish council says this doesn’t apply because the plant would burn fossil fuels, resulting in higher levels of nitrogen dioxide in surrounding areas including the Withymead nature reserve, which is used by children as a forest school, and the Ridgeway public footpath.
In a 15-page report, the council says there is no public interest argument to outweigh the impact.
It says Balance’s motivation is “commercial convenience” because, it claims, the generators are more profitable than building only batteries but also more polluting.
Although the company says it would plant trees and hedges to screen the site, these would need up to 15 years of growth to make a difference when the plant might last only twice that length of time.
The parish council also says the plant could set a precedent for further development and that the plans go against the district council’s declaration of a “climate emergency” in which it vowed to act to reduce carbon emissions.
It says: “To provide a facility as proposed, in a protected area that is a great distance from the locations of need, makes no sense. There are better options and more suitable locations. This application purports to be something it is not… [it] is not reasonable and should be refused.”
Enid Worsley, one of the volunteers who compiled Goring’s neighbourhood plan, said several adjacent fields, also belonging to the Hildreds, had been ruled out as sites for new housing because of the visual impact so the same should apply in this case.
She said: “The generators... and other structures are bulky, intrusive and alien to the AONB’s special qualities and distinctive character.
“The installation will provide no economic or social benefit and does not meet a local need, unlike the adjacent waste water treatment plant. It will feed into the National Grid so there is no reason it cannot be located within South Oxfordshire on brownfield or industrial land outside the AONB, while still providing ‘local power’.”
She said the plant would be visible to walkers and cyclists using the Icknield Way, Spring Lane and the Ridgeway, the Chiltern Way to the east and from high ground on the North Wessex Downs on the opposite side of the River Thames.
It would also affect the £3.75million landscaping work which Network Rail is about to undertake to offset the impact of the overhead cables along the Great Western main line, which runs near the site.
Ms Worsley said: “It would be perverse and evidence of an unbalanced planning decision to approve this application which would undo the benefits of that mitigation project being expensively funded by the taxpayer. This should be refused to avoid compounding the damage created by electrification.”
She added that the proposed access off Wallingford Road could affect wildlife and the lighting could disturb nocturnal animals.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has also objected, as have dozens of Goring and South Stoke residents. The Chilterns Conservation Board says the proposed screening should be “bigger and bolder”.
The district council’s air quality, countryside and environmental health officers have not objected, nor has Oxfordshire County Council as the highways authority.
Balance says the generators would typically only run in the mornings and evenings, up to a maximum of 3,000 hours a year, although 1,500 is more likely. They could be pressed into action at night very occasionally, although the noise would be “not significant”.
Its consultants say the increase in air pollution would be “negligible” and the scheme would help the country shift to forms of energy which are more environmentally friendly but less reliable.
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. This is too small to be “nationally significant”, in which case the Government would decide the application.
The district council is due to make a decision later this month.
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