The Energy Recovery facility (ERF) in the proposed Coseley Eco Park will be bad for the environment for two reasons.
By processing 120,000 tonnes of municipal waste each year, it will release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. It will also reduce the incentive to reduce waste and recycle because councils will get locked into contracts committing them to supply a set amount of waste each year.
An outline planning application for the park, described by developers as “one of the most environmentally-friendly employment destinations in the Midlands”, was published Friday, 28 October. The deadline for objections to Dudley Council is 18 November.
In the Dudley Express & Star on 1 November, Graham Willson, director of the site's owner Skelton Group Investments, said: "I am confident we can allay people's fears and show them this is not the same as an incinerator."
But appendix 1 from the scheme's environmental statement, which is available on Dudley Council's planning website, shows this to be false. A letter dated 16 August, 2011, from Richard Stevenson, the council's senior development control officer, to Skelton's agent Roger Tym & Partners, states: "The Council considers that the proposal would fall under "Schedule 1" development in accordance with paragraph 10 of the Town and Country (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1999, in that it would be a waste disposal site involving the incineration of more than 100 tonnes per day (which has been previously conveyed in an earlier letter)."
Skelton says the plant would be a renewable, zero carbon source of energy because it would use the natural gases from the waste to create heat and power.
But Friends of the Earth argues that the country’s future energy needs should increasingly be met by incentives for local wind and solar power generation schemes. One example of how this could work is found at a house in Penzer Street, Kingswinford, which was completed in October (see case study 2 below).
Our group has completed two case studies about the use of renewable energy in the Dudley area. These were done as part of a national initiative to find out why businesses and organisations source green energy, the benefits it brings and the challenges faced in getting the schemes off the ground.
Case study 1: Dudley Environment Zone, Robert Street, Lower Gornal
With a small wind turbine and 14 solar photovoltaic panels, Dudley Environment Zone has helped thousands of school children in the Black Country understand what renewable energy is.
Although installed for educational purposes, the zone also highlights what the returns might be for community groups and businesses investing in similar technology.
The wind turbine, which has a generating capacity of 6kw, was installed in August, 2006, at a cost of around £25,000. The annual cost of maintenance is around £250. The solar panels, which have no maintenance costs, have nearly 3kw capacity and were fitted in September, 2009, at a cost of £19,000. All these prices exclude VAT. By August, 2011, the investment had saved 9,700 kg of CO2.
The zone, which offers a curriculum development and environmental awareness service to Dudley schools, is run in conjunction with the neighbouring Roberts Primary School in Lower Gornal, Dudley.
Guy de Szathmary (above)), the environmental education officer running the zone, says: “On the basis of electricity costing around 12p per kwh (kilowatt hour)*, we have saved the school more than £2,000 in the first five years of using renewable energy.”
As a result of registering with the Feed in Tariff through British Gas earlier this year, the school will now earn nearly £1,000 per year extra. This is because it is paid at approximately 40p for every kwh produced.
The current review of the tariff is not a big concern for the zone because the investment in renewable energy was all paid for with grants from both the public and private sector. “Anything we get is a bonus,” explains Guy. “In total, we are now saving about 10% of the school’s electricity bill. That excludes the money we get from the tariff.”
But without some sort of incentive, he feels that investment in renewable energy by community groups, businesses and householders will remain limited. “I think the problem at the moment is that the costs are just that little bit out of reach of most people.”
He says solar panels are proving the more efficient of the two energy sources at the centre. “They have half the generating capacity but produce nearly twice as much energy as the turbine.”
Although the turbine is exposed to prevailing westerly winds and is located nearly 200m above sea level, it is not as high off the ground as it could be due to planning considerations.
For Guy, its main attraction is the educational impact is has on the 6,000 children and adults visiting the zone annually. “When they see the turbine spinning round and feel and hear the vibration that it creates, they immediately start asking questions.”
* According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average unit price of electricity in August, 2011, was 12.5p
Further information and images about the zone’s renewable energy investments can be found at http://www.sunnyportal.com/Templates/PublicPagesPlantList.aspx . Click on United Kingdom and then Dudley Environment Zone.
Case study 2: St Mary's Rectory, Penzer Street, Kingswinford
St Mary’s parish church in Kingswinford, West Midlands, dates back to the 12th century but its rectory is at the cutting edge of the 21st century energy revolution. Environmental considerations have been given such high priority in every aspect of construction that its sustainability credentials are thought to be unrivalled throughout England.
The 28 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the south facing roof are the most obvious difference from surrounding pre-war housing. But dig down 2.7m in the garden and you would find 90m of pipework used to extract heat from the ground to boost the base temperature of the house. As well as 275mm-thick insulation beneath the ground floor, a further defence against cold is provided by a layer of ‘thermal bricks’ immediately above the foundations.
Windows and doors are triple-glazed and the external walls are clad with 260mm of Neopor, a material similar to polystyrene. Insulation in the roof, which is made from recycled paper, is 500mm thick and, in addition to the electricity-generating PV panels on the roof, there is a solar thermal panel for the hot water supply.
Heat loss from the vicarage is expected to be less than one tenth that of average homes and, because it will generate more electricity than it uses, it earns the title of zero carbon ‘passive house’. Passive house is an international standard demonstrating how heat loss can be minimised by exceptional standards of insulation and air tightness.
John Christophers, of Associated Architects which designed the building, explains why no other house in England is thought to match its sustainability credentials. “It’s rated as Zero Carbon or Level Six under the world-leading Code for Sustainable Homes; and it also has a much-prized Passivhaus Certificate. The “first” is that we have managed to achieve both of them together.”
He estimates the PV panels will generate £1,500-a-year under the Government’s Feed In Tariff (FIT) and expects the property will also benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) if this scheme is implemented by Government. “I’m convinced that the FIT, RHI and similar schemes, consistently and transparently managed, are essential to stimulate the wide take-up of these technologies in UK.”
The Diocese of Worcester is spending £500,000 on the building as part of a new environmental strategy to lead on green issues by example when developing and maintaining its estate. As Kingswinford rector the Rev. Dr Giles Kendall puts it, the investment shows the church “standing up for global justice and challenging society to take a sustainable path for future generations”.
According to diocesan surveyor Mark Wild, the cost of the house is about 25% more than one with a similar lay-out and meeting current building standards. “Assuming the cost of energy continues to rise sharply, it’s been estimated that the cost of providing and running the house will be a quarter of that of a conventionally designed house of a similar size over a 50-year period. Therefore the money we are investing now should more than be recouped over the coming years.”
The diocese is insisting that all carbon generated by the rectory’s building materials and construction is closely monitored. That has meant significant changes to the job of Del Browne, site manager for contractor Speller Metcalfe.
“Everything we use has to be sourced because we have to count up how much carbon has been used to build the house. Even the workers’ cabin windows are double-glazed and the lights go on and off as they go in and out.”
Biodiversity is also considered carefully along with carbon reduction. A hedgehog house and a wildlife pond in the garden form part of the design brief together with a bird nesting box set into the house frontage. There is also a rainwater harvesting tank buried in the garden so run-off from the house can be used to flush toilets.
Kate Kendall, married to the rector, says the annual energy bill at the old rectory next door, which is more than 70 years-old and has less floor space than the new one, was around £3,000. “There’s five of us in the family and we kept the temperature at 20 degrees centigrade in winter. That still meant putting on extra clothes to keep warm.”
Despite the huge saving on energy bills, she points out that living in a zero carbon house would not suit everyone. For example, the floor coverings are made from recycled glass, not carpet, and any holes in external walls for picture hooks are banned because plaster helps form the building’s air-tight insulation shield.
For Kate, these are minor irritants that do nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for the new four-bedroomed home which her family is due to move in to in October. “I like the quirkiness of it. The whole holistic side of it appeals to me.”
See: http://new-green-house.blogspot.com/ for pictures of the house being built as well as reports about the trials and tribulations of having an eco house built.