Green light for energy centre

The former paper mill at Guardbridge will become a hub for St Andrews University's sustainable energy programme.
The former paper mill at Guardbridge will become a hub for St Andrews University's sustainable energy programme.

St Andrews University’s drive to become a carbon neutral institution came a step closer this week when plans for a biomass development at Guardbridge were approved by Fife Council.

The £25 million investment will see power generated through clean biomass at Guardbridge and hot water pumped for four miles underground to St Andrews to heat and cool its labs and residences at North Haugh and Fife Park.

The biomass plant will sit alongside the university’s planned six-turbine wind farm at Kenly, east of St Andrews, supporting a strategic drive by St Andrews to become the United Kingdom’s first carbon-neutral university and saving around 500,000 tonnes of carbon in the next 20 years alone.

In a quick decision on Wednesday, members of Fife Council’s north east planning committee approved the university’s planning applications to develop the former paper mill for both university and business uses, creating the Sustainable Power and Research Campus, and all the ancillary work connected with piping hot water to St Andrews and returning the used, cold water to the biomass plant.

The three-part plan for the paper mill includes the energy centre with a log store and wood chipping area; a second zone for industry, research and testing; and thirdly, industrial, office and storage facilities.

The green energy produced on site and at Kenly will help the university protect jobs and ward off the effects of rapidly rising external energy prices. Although St Andrews has managed to cut its power consumption in recent years, energy prices have been continually hiked by the big power companies, representing a major threat to investment in front line teaching and research.

In addition to the energy centre, the university’s plans for Guardbridge include a Knowledge Exchange Hub to provide “missing link” facilities which would allow research and discoveries made in university labs to be translated to working prototypes.

The centre will also offer affordable accommodation to local companies, with the aim of attracting businesses and skills linked to the renewables sector.

Councillors did express concerns about where the material for the biomass plant would be sourced. The university has said the facility will use only virgin roundwood, locally sourced from sustainable forests within 50 miles of the plant and councillors wanted to be sure that meant the wood was locally grown, not imported from overseas by local merchants.

Councillor Bryan Poole described the plan as “a good news story and a very ambitious project for the university”.

A spokesperson for the University of St Andrews said: “We are delighted that planning permission has been granted and that this exciting project has passed another significant milestone.

“Guardbridge offers a tremendous opportunity to establish not just a green energy centre, but a wider campus for innovation, research and development. We look forward to working with our local community and neighbours to bring significant benefits to the village of Guardbridge itself, the university, Fife and Scotland.”

The £25 million cost of the scheme is backed by a £10 million grant from the Scottish Funding Council which is supporting carbon reduction schemes across Scottish Higher Education.