December 10th, 2009
BRISTOL should not play host to one of the new generation of bio-fuel power plants, says Lib Dem city council leader Barbara Janke.
An application for a 50MW power plant in Avonmouth has been submitted by W4B Energy. The application is not specific about what fuel stock will be used, but it is understood to be either palm oil or jatropha oil. While both are renewable energy sources, there are strong questions about their sustainability.
Palm oil causes objections because it is mainly grown in large plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia that have been cleared from the rainforest, in particular threatening the range of the orang utan. Jatropha oil is generally grown in southern Africa, but there is concern because it is poisonous to humans and animals and because farmers are being enticed to switch from food to fuel production.
Barbara Janke said: "There are so many unanswered questions about tropical bio-fuels - about their impact on the environment, on biodiversity and on local food production. There are no reliable sustainability standards in place yet and I would not want to see Bristol be a test bed for technologies that potentially cause significant damage in the developing world."
The exploitation of tropical bio-fuels becomes economically viable through a very generous subsidy system offered by the government to encourage the growth of renewable energy sources. Some companies are planning to use the subsidies to establish plants which use waste materials, like used cooking oil, but others have sought to develop new fuel sources like palm oil and jatropha oil.
Barbara Janke said: "It's important to remember that there is a difference between renewable energy and sustainable energy. Just because a fuel source is relatively low carbon doesn't mean we should embrace it with open arms, especially if there are other impacts to consider.
"National planning law makes it difficult for councils to resist applications like this. However, a number of other councils in the UK have recently rejected bio-fuel plants, citing concerns about air pollution and environmental and human impacts. Ultimately, the decision in Bristol will rest with the planning committee, but I will be registering my own objection and I know that many of my colleagues will be following suit.
"I believe that local councils should have more power to refuse planning applications with global implications. Bristol is a Green Capital and it would be a travesty if we were forced to accept this power plant due to national government subsidies and a lack of local control."
The application will come before the Development Control (North) Committee meeting on January 20, 2010.