Biogas plant to start generating energy ahead of roadworks

Operators of a new biogas plant on a farm near Penkridge have been given the go-ahead to start generating energy despite roadworks not yet being complete.

The junction of Lower Drayton Lane and the A449 near Penkridge. Photo: Google
The junction of Lower Drayton Lane and the A449 near Penkridge. Photo: Google

There have been delays in the process of finalising highways improvements connected with the anaerobic digestion (AD) plant at Lower Drayton Farm, South Staffordshire Council’s planning committee heard.

A planning condition linked with the permission granted for the plant required the highway works to be complete before it comes into operation.

But a report to Tuesday’s planning committee meeting said applicants EOS Dev Co Ltd “cannot afford to have a the facility, involving sensitive biological processes, halted indefinitely until the Highway Authority deliver the necessary design, costs and improvements to the local network”.

Committee members agreed unanimously to vary the condition, allowing a one-year ‘grace period’ to enable the plant to be used before the highway works are complete.

The plant will be used to generate biomethane and electricity, using crops grown for the scheme.

Steve Barker, who spoke in support of the application, told the committee: “In an ideal world we wouldn’t be having this application – the plant should have been completed several months ago and a short length of road widening would have been in place well before the plant was ready to need it.

“But Covid and cyber-attacks on the county council’s external contractors have delayed the design and costing work on this scheme and it is still behind schedule. You will be pleased to know the design is now finally being completed and the first cost estimate from the contractor has arrived this month, with more to follow in the next couple of weeks.

“We’ve already spent tens of thousands of pounds on the highways improvements required and lack of money is not the reason they are being delayed. There is nothing the applicant could have done to prevent this situation from occurring; it’s simply one of those facts of life we’ve all had to live through these past 18 months.

“An anaerobic digester plant can’t simply be turned on or off like a normal power station. They take four to six months to bring online and two to three months to take offline.

“The tanks were seeded back in December 2020, in anticipation of everything being in place later in the year. They’re delicate pieces of biological plant at the beginning of their lives.

“There is a further complication – the crops grown for the AD scheme, like maize and grass, have to be harvested when they’re ready. You work around the crop, not the other way round.

“Farmers in the area, including the owner of the site, have grown maize this year expecting to put it in the storage clamps on the site. They can’t leave the crops forever, indefinitely in the field. They’ve got to put them somewhere and if they can’t put them in the clamps on the site they will have to take them back to the farms for storage, so we have very limited room for manoeuvre.

“We have agreed to limit deliveries during rush hour, and following updates from officers over your concerns about the hedge we have reacted quickly in the last couple of weeks to remove the hedge. We’re happy to plant as soon as we’re in the planting season.”

Ward member Councillor Len Bates proposed that the application be approved.

He said: “The necessary conditions have been addressed in respect of the section of hedgerow to the north of the A449. However I do have concerns regarding the widening of the junction off the A449 with Lower Drayton Lane and the associated works, together with the widening of Lower Drayton Lane and associated works.

“I am pleased that the movement of delivery vehicles has been reduced.”

Councillor Robert Reade said: “I think the point made about the crops is something one must think about. We’re going through a nice dry period at the moment, just ideal for transporting the crop to the farm through our network of roads.”

Councillor Terry Mason said: “Following the site visit we had I can only thank Mr Barker and his client for reacting so quickly to the suggestions members made.”

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