Welsh biomass developer to build one plant, sell another

By Luke Geiver | December 13, 2011

Only two and half weeks after announcing plans to construct and operate a 40 MW straw-fired biomass power plant near the U.K. city of Mendlesham, Welsh-based renewable energy developer Eco2 has announced it will sell the rights to another proposed straw-based biomass power plant near Sleaford.

BNP Paribas Clean Energy Partners, a global investment firm that raised €437 million ($576 million) for a clean energy fund in late June of 2010, purchased the facility from Eco2 for €170 million ($224 million). Although the ownership of the Sleaford plant has changed hands, Eco2 will still be responsible for the construction and operation of the facility.

“Biomass is set to provide around half of all of the renewable energy required if Europe is to meet its targets,” said David Williams, Eco2 CEO. He added that the company is pleased that interest in the sector is growing, and that it was able to achieve such a landmark deal for the good of the industry. BNP Paribas Clean Energy Partners said its investment fund reflects a strong demand for clean energy infrastructure. Made up of institutional investors from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, U.K., Sweden, Asia and Japan, the fund has already invested in wind and solar projects.

Once operating, the Sleaford facility will provide electricity for 65,000 homes, as well as heat through a district heating system for several public buildings in Sleaford. Local farmers will supply the straw, and the ash from the facility will be recycled as fertilizer. According to Williams, the project will inject nearly €10 million into the economy every year and the first deliveries of straw to the facility are expected near the end of 2013.

Near the Mendlesham Old Airfield Industrial Estate, the company will also construct and operate a biomass power plant that will use waste-straw biomass sourced from farmers within a 30-mile radius. Eco2 held an informational session a week after announcing plans to build the facility, allowing local residents and officials of the community to ask questions and seek answers. Andrew Toft, director of projects at Eco2, said the company was pleased to discuss plans for the facility with members of the community. The facility will use roughly 240,000 tons of straw per year, and according to the company, long-term contracts will provide the local farming economy with an increase of €8 million per year.

In mid-November, Williams was awarded the Individual Achievement Award at the Energy Institute Awards 2011 in London, in part for his 20-plus years work in renewable energy, part of which was spent successfully developing the U.K.’s first and largest straw-fired power station in Cambridge.