Environmental issues raised as Markinch biomass plant gets up and running

Tulliss Russell biomass plant in Markinch
Tulliss Russell biomass plant in Markinch

Last week the Gazette got a first look behind the scenes at the new biomass plant currently undergoing the final phase of commissioning.

In the second part of our feature, we look at some of the environmental issues thrown up now that the plant is up and running.

With residents, local activists, community leaders and environmental groups all taking a keen interest in the performance of the new combined heat and power (CHP) plant. Not to mention RWE Innogy (formerly RWE Npower Renewables) who operate the facility, there are a number of issues including excess noise and light pollution as well as clarification over just what the plant is emitting into the atmosphere as a result of its operating process, that have brought concerns to those living closest to the site.

While many have have welcomed the significant investment, to the tune of some £200 million, which replaced the obsolete coal-powered power station that the Tullis Russell paper mill operated from, a number of public meetings and liaisons with individual residents have taken place.

It’s widely regarded that the replacement power plant, which burns a diet of ten per cent virgin wood and 90 per cent recovered, secured the future of those 500-plus employees at the paper mill.

But with problems from an ongoing and behind schedule commissioning programme RWE have had some work to do in appeasing their closest neighbours.

John Ballantyne from Markinch Environmental Action Group (MEAG) told the Gazette one of the key issues for them was the emissions deriding from the burning of recovered containing contaminates.

“We accept that these types of biomass plants do produce toxins from the burning process.

“One way in which the amount could be reduced is by burning the fuel at a higher temperature than the 850 degrees and for a longer time.

“We advocate the EU directive of 1150 degrees but the company comply with the SEPA regulations.”

Tony Brunton, a MEAG member, said :” What we want is for people to be safe, that’s our primary objective, but we’re not reassured by much of what comes back from RWE’s management.”

It’s an claim RWE strongly deny.

Ian Gaunt, CHP plant manager at the Markinch site said: “Our planning consent means we are waste incinerator compliant meaning we have to maintain heat of 850 degrees for at least two seconds, which is meeting our statutory obligations.

“The fluidized bed boiler works like a Dyson hoover; like a cyclone; with very light particles sucked through the centre and dispersed to 1600 bag filters.

“The old Tullis Russell power station was allowed to emit 300 miligrams per cubic mtre, we are allowed to emit ten. When I checked recently we were emiting 0.3.

“What was here in the past and what we have now is unrecognisable – the particulate removal is phenomenal.

With our flue gas clean up, we spray activated carbons which in simple terms sticks the harmful compounds onto extraction pans.”

Despite Ian Gaunt’s reasurrances, MEAG members say they their concerns have not yet fully been eased.

Mr Ballantyne said: “To simply compare the new biomass plant against the previous coal-powered power station is somewhat missing the point, our concerns are genuine and relate to what we have now sitting within our community.

“We are yet to be reassured about the harmful emissions that are being emitted into the atmosphere.

“The issues surrounding PM 2.5 particulate matter and dioxins that will come from the burning of recovered wood which contains paint, dyes, glues, stains and other chemicals. This is all part of the fuel and is of concern to us.”

At a recent public meeting organised by Markinch Community Council, Mr Gaunt said that while any concerns the public had would be taken seriously, the plant now produces just a fraction of what was being put into the atmosphere previously.

“Sulphur Dioxide is just two per cent of what was allowed by TR’s previous coal powered plant, Oxides of Nitrogen just four per cent,” he said.

The environmentalists are continuing to watch the commissioning of the plant closely and will continue to press for tighter and more wide-ranging emissions restrictions. It’s a debate that the Gazette will explore separately and in depth in the coming weeks.

A reliability check run over 10-day period in May will take place with commercial take- over completed soon after.

A number of complaints regarding noise and light pollution have also been expressed by residents in Prestonhall and Markinch.

Vehicle beeping sounds are a well-established complaint.

Ian Gaunt: “It’s an understandable irritation to residents and we understand that and have implemented a number of new procedures.

“White noise alarms on vehicles which dissipate very quickly, before the sound reaches the A92 to this will mark a big reduction in the vehicle noise emanating from the plant, they are being retrofitted on all vehicles.”

Previous problems with venting in the commissioning stage with the noise associated with steam blow have been of great concern to residents.

“As the CHP reaches commercial operation we expect the plant to have a base load of 8000 hours per year with two planned outages per year,” Mr Gaunt told residents.

“Following very vociferous complaints we put in place at their home a continuous noise monitoring system in place - it takes five minute averages and plots them, we correlate these against monitoring at the plant.

“We also cross refer against an ‘events diary’ kept by the complainant and we check that against what plant actions were taking place at any given time.”

With commissioning still ongoing and questions continuing to be asked by those living closest to the plant, those responsible for the CHP operation still have work to do if they are to convince the public that their well-being and amenity is not to be compromised.

As the plant nears full production, the Gazette will explore some of the individual issues in more detail.