Exclusive, 16 June 2009
The renewable energy industry is accusing the city council, run by a coalition of LibDem and Scottish Nationalist councillors, of blocking plans for biomass boilers in schools, while similar developments are being given the go-ahead across the rest of the country.
Burning wood from Scotland’s forests is seen by the Nationalist government as a vital way to provide renewable heat to communities. It has set a target to deliver 11% of the nation’s heat energy from renewables by 2020, and supported 26 schemes around the country.
But the City of Edinburgh Council has rejected plans to install wood-burning plants to heat seven primary and high schools. This is despite the city’s ambition in 2006 to become the most environmentally friendly city in northern Europe.
“A couple of years ago Edinburgh council was rightly regarded as being at the forefront of aspiring to effective action on climate change in Scotland,” said Jason Ormiston, the chief executive of the green energy body, Scottish Renewables.
“The moratorium imposed by the city council on all wood fuel generation, without any sensible justification and recognition of the high quality technology available today, does not support national objectives and will jeopardise Scotland’s ability to meet international obligations on climate change and renewable energy.”
According to Ormiston, Scotland had to deliver “massive amounts of renewable heat as quickly as possible” to meet the government’s climate targets. New measures to boost renewable heat have been introduced into the climate change bill on it way through the Scottish Parliament.
The council was also fiercely criticised by Labour and Green politicians in Edinburgh. "The SNP and LibDem council is delaying progress,” said Labour’s environment spokeswoman, Sarah Boyack MSP. “These boilers were included in Labour's plans for these new schools when we left office, but the new council was wrong to dump them.”
Edinburgh Green councillor, Steve Burgess, said: “The LibDems and SNP are being completely two-faced, making big claims about how they support renewable energy but then stifling the roll-out of biomass technology.”
Edinburgh Council defended its actions by saying that the biomass boiler plans had been cancelled because of concerns over the air pollution they might cause. It would not now be “practical” to introduce such schemes into schools as they were nearing completion
“However we note the new guidance from the Scottish government and will take this on board when considering future projects,” said the city’s LibDem environment leader, Councillor Robert Aldridge.
“We are committed to tackling climate change and have a varied range of initiatives in place to make Edinburgh one of the most environmentally-friendly cities in the United Kingdom.”
The company Wood Energy Limited, insisted that pollution control technology was now good enough to enable wood-burning boilers to be installed in cities, as was happening in London. “We would be happy to talk through any areas of concern with the city council,” said the company’s Dan Gates.
The Scottish government stressed that there was a “huge opportunity” to use more biomass power. “We need to build a viable renewable heat sector utilising our vast forestry resource, especially in areas not connected to the gas grid,” said a government spokesman.
“We recognise that the growth of biomass, especially cumulative installations in sensitive urban areas, needs to be assessed against potential air quality effects and we carried out research last year to provide guidance to councils to assess air quality implications.”