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The UK's burgeoning biomass industry received a further boost today with news plans for Britain's largest wood-fired power station have been given the go ahead by the Environment Agency.
The 350MW Prenergy plant in Port Talbot, South Wales is expected to generate power for up to 500,000 homes while cutting emissions by between 50 and 80 per cent compared to gas or coal fired power stations.
The Environment Agency said that the permit would be dependent on Prenergy ensuring the new facility has no measurable impact on local air quality and the wider environment.
It also requires Prenergy to deliver quantifiable carbon emission reductions by only using wood chips sourced from sustainably certified sources - the first time such a clause has been included for biomass plant.
Tony Grayling, the Environment Agency's head of climate change and sustainable development, hinted that all future biomass plants would be subject to similar conditions regarding where they source materials from.
"As part of its environmental permit, Prenergy must prove to the Environment Agency that its wood is sustainable," he said. "If the sustainability standard is met, this new station will be a big step towards meeting the Government's climate change and renewable energy targets. In the future we would like to see all biomass developers meet the high standards that have been set by Prenergy."
The news completes a good week for the UK's biomass energy sector, after energy giant Npower announced it has inked a major deal to provide heat and electricity from its planned 50MW biomass plant in Scotland to paper manufacturer Tullis Russell.
The company's renewable energy arm said that the deal was likely to be just one of a number of contracts with local businesses that will see them provided with low carbon heat and power from the £200 million plant when it comes online in 2012.
Paul Cowling, managing director of RWE npower renewables, said the new plant would reduce annual carbon emissions by 250,000 tonnes while generating six per cent of Scotland's renewable energy targets.
In related news, construction work is also set to begin early next year on one of the UK's largest anaerobic digestion plans after proposals for a 2.5MW plant from biogas firm Monsal were given the go ahead. The company said that the new plant in Cambridgeshire was scheduled to come online next year and would convert local food waste into heat, electricity and 12,000 tons of compost.
The latest developments further underline the health of a sector that was recently singled out by investors as offering the best short term returns of any clean technology. The UK government also gave the go ahead for a raft of large biomass plants over the summer as it seeks to hit its target of generating 15 per cent of the UK's energy from renewable sources by 2020.