W4B Vegetable Oil Power Station Proposal at Avonmouth

A company called W4B submitted a planning application to build a 50MW power station at Avonmouth that would burn Palm oil or Jatropha oil. This expensive fuel would be sourced in the tropics funded by our electricity bills in the name of renewable energy but it would lead to ravaging vast tracts of land with serious human, environmental and negative climate change consequences. Bristol council rejected the application but W4B appealed to the government, who approved it with conditions.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State at the DCLG ruled on 10 February that W4B be given planning permission. Eric Pickles’ decision to uphold W4B’s appeal is very disappointing – but not unexpected.  However, ACSEB, and our campaigning partners, Biofuelwatch and Friends of the Earth are determined that this plant will not operate. Our campaign now switches to the Department for Energy and Climate Change DECC and the European Parliament. You can still play your important part.Despite the decision, we have, nevertheless, won some important victories, which overturn findings in the planning Inspector’s report.

1.   That the sustainability of bioliquids IS a material consideration for local planning.
2.   That the Council’s interpretation of ‘natural environment’ to include CO2 emissions and climate change was correct.
3.   DCLG recognize that other legislation would NOT ‘control’ the type and nature of the bioliquid.
4.   They have made conditions that all fuel burnt in the plant has to be certified as sustainable under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) criteria.
DCLG have also admitted the case “relates to matters of major significance for the delivery of the Government’s climate change programme and energy policies.”

They also admit that “given the current controversy about bioliquids . . . the Council and other objectors acted reasonably in wanting to test evidence on this matter.” They have NOT awarded costs against the Council.
So, in future, planning must take into account global environmental impacts. This is a considerable victory.

DCLG have side-stepped the issue of global sustainability by putting in a planning condition that the fuels must be certified as sustainable for OFGEM. They have handed the political hot potato to DECC and OFGEM. We have had preliminary discussions with the city and we agree with councillor Neil Harrison that the battle must now be taken to DECC, using the above rulings, and also to challenge the European RED – especially its appendix of indicative fuel savings.

DCLG had 478 letters of objection from members of the public, and a petition from Hallen.  As well as the eight local MPs, the following MPs made representations (presumably objections): Hilary Benn, Nicola Blackwood, Nick Clegg, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Sheila Gilmore, Andrew George, Harriet Harman, Dr Julian Huppert, Mary Macleod, Meg Munn, Jesse Norman, Chloe Smith.

There is no doubt that our lobbying has increased the political profile of this issue. So now is the time to take it up with DECC and the EU. Please write to your MP, your MEPs, and also to Chris Huhne and Charles Hendry at the DECC.

How to Complain
Model letter/email: modify with your own viewpoint and send to the Secretary of State, and also write to your own MP asking them to write to him.Dear Chris Huhne,The recent decision by Eric Pickles to allow the Avonmouth biofuel power-plant to proceed flies in the face of logic and will have major deleterious consequences for greenhouse gas emissions.  He has passed the responsibility for stopping the pernicious scam of biofuels to your department.  I ask you immediately to stop subsidies for biofuels (ROCs) for the following reasons.1.   There is a suite of scientific evidence that on a full life-cycle analysis biofuels, especially tropical biofuels, are far worse for greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. The DECC’s own NNFCC Greenhouse Gas ‘Savings’ Study admits that it is not a full life-cycle analysis, yet it states that it is worse for the climate to burn palm oil or jatropha than natural gas.
2.   The RED appendix figures for GHG savings do not comprise a full life-cycle analysis, they exclude emissions from Land-Use Change  (LUC) and Indirect Land-Use Change (ILUC). The figures in the RED were supplied by organisations representing the European petroleum and car industries and are suspect.
3.   There is no independent and trustworthy certification scheme for palm-oil sustainability.
4.   Even if there was a credible sustainability auditing scheme the expanding demand for tropical oils for fuel would merely displace the current demand for chemical use and food onto new un-certified plantations – thus still causing forest destruction.
5.   Double ROC subsidies are only payable on crops planted for energy use, so W4B have a financial incentive to use new plantations and thus to cut down more forest.
6.   The RED offers no protection to communities who have suffered murder, dispossession, pesticide poisoning and abuse by the planters of (often illegal) plantations.
7.   Subsidies are not mandated by the EU RED. The Renewable Obligation Order allows the Secretary of State to amend the scheme under special powers.
8.   There is a precedent in the Netherlands, where subsidies on palm-oil were stopped in December 2007. As a result of this no new palm-oil fired power-stations have been built.DCLG had 478 letters of objection from members of the public, and a petition from the village of Hallen.  As well as the eight local MPs: Liam Fox, Martin Horwood, Charlotte Leslie, Jack Lopresti, Kerry McCarthy, Dawn Primarolo, Steve Webb, Stephen Williams  the following 12 MPs also made representations (presumably objections): Hilary Benn, Nicola Blackwood, Nick Clegg, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Sheila Gilmore, Andrew George, Harriet Harman, Dr Julian Huppert, Mary Macleod, Meg Munn, Jesse Norman, Chloe Smith.

Yours faithfully,


Email addresses:

Liam Fox MP, N Somerset, douglasi@parliament.uk

Martin Horwood MP, Cheltenham, horwoodm@parliament.uk
Charlotte Leslie MP, Bristol NW, charlotte.leslie.mp@parliament.uk
Jack Lopresti MP, Filton and Bradley Stoke, jack.lopresti.mp@parliament.uk

Kerry McCarthy MP, Bristol E, mccarthyk@parliament.uk

Dawn Primarolo MP, Bristol S, primarolod@parliament.uk

Steve Webb MP, Thornbury and Yate, webbs@parliament.uk
Stephen Williams MP, Bristol W, stephenwilliamsmp@parliament.uk

Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, chris.huhne@decc.gsi.gov.uk

Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy,charles.hendry@decc.gsi.gov.uk

Graham Watson MEP casework@grahamwatsonmep.org


ACSEB  15 Feb 2011

Sustainable renewable energy on a large scale must be captured directly from sun, wind and water – destroying rainforests to produce a small energy contribution is unacceptable and allowing renewables subsidies to be spent on this would be a travesty. The government is expected to clarify its policy soon – in the mean time we need to ensure Bristol is not heading in the wrong direction.

The Issues

1. the power station will rely on imported biofuels which are known to cause deforestation and damage biodiversity
2. the developer’s own ‘Carbon Analysis’ report showed that the power station will make no worthwhile contribution to reducing carbon emissions and hence tackling climate change
3. a report from the National Non Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) commissioned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change and published in March 2010 stated that electricity from palm oil and jatropha – biofuels to be used by W4B – has a carbon footprint worse than electricity from natural gas.
4. the power station will worsen air quality for nearby residents, and the adjacent internationally protected nature site, although the modelling predictions made by W4B’s consultants try to show that it will be just within legal limits.In summary – the power station does nothing to help reduce carbon emissions, it worsens local air quality, it destroys wildlife habitats, it relies on imported fuel (ie it is no solution to energy security), and it will double the amount of palm oil used in the UK for energy production.It also costs the country a lot of money. As UK electricity consumers we will be paying W4B £36m a year in subsidies on the basis that the power they generate is ‘green’. But the Government’s own report says that it is no greener than electricity from natural gas. So it’s a really bad deal!