Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Environment Monday - Power station to be built in Mill Hill on Green belt land.

First of all, let me apologise for publishing this on a Tuesday. Research was required that delayed it, but it is an important issue, so I did not want to leave it until next week.

One of the things I do on a monthly basis is check all planning applications for Mill Hill. On Sunday I was doing this and was flabbergasted  to find a proposal for a gas fired power station in Mill Hill, located on Partingdale Lane in the Green Belt.  The map shows where this is located

Click for link to document on Council website

This is a large installation that will provide nearly 50 megawatts an hour in peak performance. It will look a bit like this.

Click for link to document on Council website

Whilst my first reaction was to be horrified that a power station was being built in Mill Hill and nobody was aware, I realised that this was a serious subject and required more than a kneejerk response.

The applicant says in their application

The Proposed Development is intended to be used to provide cost effective flexibility services to the electricity network by adding electricity to the system to maintain the network’s operation when required. National Grid, the System Operator, is responsible for ensuring a stable and secure supply of electricity to UK homes, businesses and industry. To do this, it procures such services from distributed energy systems, existing connected customers or specialist service providers (such as the Applicant). The flexibility they can provide is critical to maintaining a stable supply of electricity at least
cost to consumers, as well as enabling intermittent renewable technologies to come online and herefore, to achieving national decarbonisation targets.
The Proposed Development would function as a gas peaking plant and would operate when there are high levels of demand for electricity, otherwise known as peaking demand, or where there is a shortfall in the supply of electricity. The need for the flexibility that gas peaking plants provide is especially critical as more conventional power stations come off line, replaced by a higher penetration of renewable energy technologies. The Proposed Development would help to ensure that National Grid
is able to ‘keep the lights on’ in the UK as the electricity system strives to maintain the balance between supply and demand while rapidly decarbonising.
Ultimately, the Proposed Development, as well as other technologies, offer a valuable contribution to the UK’s secure, low carbon and affordable electricity system, at least cost to consumers.
The logic is simple. The UK historically has had massive, highly polluting carbon fuelled power stations. These would pump out CO2 24 x7 for 365 days a year. The UK has been moving away from these towards renewable energy, but sources such as solar and wind power are unpredictable and not always available. If we wish to maintain our current, energy intensive lifestyles, we need to have some sort of backup system to kick in when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. Small, localised power stations that can be brought on line when required will produce far less CO2 than the traditional mega  producers. Far less energy is lost in transmission over miles of wires and the CO2 is only produced when required. Sounds sensible?

Like everything in the modern world, you need to look behind the words of the PR companies engaged to make this sound like the most marvellous thing since sliced bread. Firstly, there is location. This is in the GREEN BELT. It seems that the first solution for every crisis in London is to build on the Green belt. Developers and planners see it as dead space. The irony is not lost on me that we are replacing green space, where CO2 is converted to Oxygen by plants into a huge industrial facility. The fact that the applicant is trying to say this will improve the environment shows just how little they care for the environment. None of the paperwork I could see explains why we need a station of this size. I did some calculations, at home we installed a solar energy system a couple of years ago. This allows me to track our energy consumption. This tells me that on an average winter day, we use around 25 KW/H a day

Our daily peak usage is between 1.5 - 2KW/H (the highest was when we were cooking the Xmas dinner. We have a large five bedroom house and had six people in it over Xmas). Based on this usage, the "top up facility" would exclusively power 25,000 homes of my size (which is 1908 built and not energy efficient) cooking their Xmas Turkey, without any energy from anywhere else. As this is allegedly a top up, to operate largely in peak hours, it is around 750 watts/hour, which means this will be topping up 66,000 homes. This equates to Mill Hill, Finchley, Totteridge and Whetstone. The application states that as this is next  to existing national power facilities, it is well placed and due to lack of neighbours, it will cause less disturbance. Does this mitigate the damage to the green belt?

My view is that it does not. Developers of such schemes will always take the view that residents will fight less hard to fight something that isn't on their doorstep, even if it massively degrades the environment. The Totteridge valley is a totally unique habitat. It is already under extreme pressure due to the NIMR development by Barratts. We should look for other sites in less enviromnentally important place.

Then there is the bigger question as to whether gas turbines really are the solution to 'short term peak requirement'. The holy grail of green energy is energy storage systems. It seems that Europe's largest battery powered storage system is only 4.2mw. This is a tenth of the size of the Mill Hill Power station. I was talking to a friend who is an electrical engineer. He told me that the UK already has enough batteries in cars to provide peak capacity cover, if all cars were linked to the national grid when parked. He suggested that an intelligent management system could be fitted, enabling the car batteries to be used, which would cut out when the battery was down to 75% charge and would recharge when there was spare capacity in the network. Sadly as with many innovative solutions, this technology does not exist in the real world, but is an example of the type of solutions we should be considering. He also stated that if all new homes were fitted with solar panels and storage batteries, then with insulation etc, they could be net contributors to the national grid and get all of their electricity for free. This technology does exist. Why is it not compulsory in Building regs?

There have been suggestions that the new power station is required for the new housing in Mill Hill. There is nothing to suggest this in the planning applications but given the thousands of new dwellings, it seems entirely reasonable. Had the council insisted on solar power, wind turbines and powerwall batteries as standard, would this still be required? It would certainly have provided some mitigation.

We can't take a heads in the sand approach to electricity generation. We need a proper, London wide strategy to address this. Could we use the Thames Barrier as tidal barrage to generate power? Could  a Mayor backed plan to insulate older homes cut requirements? Could we manage better our peaks, by changing TV schedules? The whole issue of power generation is something that needs a far better solution than a hot potch of small generating stations on the Green Belt.

I have read all of the papers on the planning application. There is nothing I can see that specifically says why Barnet needs a 50 MW/H generating station. This should be the first document on the website and have the need spelled out in big letters. I worry that this is a Trojan horse and once the plant is established it will be ramped up ever more. We need to see where this power is destined for, whether it is being driven by new development and if so, whether there are better mitigations.

I was also shocked that Barnet did not require an Environmental Impact Assessment in such a site. This is a clear failure by the local authority. With all the disruption at Barretts NIMR site, this should not be putting more pressure on the local eco system at this time. Barnet Council needs to demonstrate that it cares about the environment and that this sort of development is only passed if there really is no better option.

If you object or support this proposal, you can comment by following this link

*** Update  We are endebted to Stuart Kershaw at the MH local forum for adding the following info to their Facebook page

According to the information contained in the application the power-station would emit the same daily amount of NOx that 463,000 standard petrol vehicles, each driving 5km in the area, would emit in one day.
The atmospheric dilution mechanism of this emission and pollutant distribution needs technical modelling and studies which take time and resources, but the attached wind-graph diagram shows, that pollution passes through many of the dwellings situated in the south-west of the proposed site.
NOx intake is a proven carcinogenic factor which also contributes to many respiratory problems. The published permitted levels are based on a cost-benefit analysis and are not a health threshold.
This plant doesn't have specific benefit for the local area and just degrades the local environment. The basic concept of the National grid is that it can be built anywhere, with lower exposure to residential areas.
The area's wind-rose graph (see photo-below - taken from the Planning Application documents), shows the dominant wind direction sweeps any emissions from the proposed new Power Station to be built off Partingdale Lane, Mill Hill, towards IBSA, Millbrook Park and may other houses along the Ridgeway, Bittacy Hill and nearby areas.
Here is a simple calculation about the proposed power station emissions based on figures provided in documents provided with the application:
Pollutant Emissions (Ref. Appendix C - Air Quality Assessment Mill Hill Gas Peaking Plant)
NOx : 5.2g/s+4.2g/s=9.4g/s (of two sets of stacks)
CO : 21.6g/s+18g/s=39.6g/s (of two sets of stacks)
Average Daily Emissions (assuming the power stations is operation for 1500hr/year based on the planning documents) :
NOx : 9.4 x 3600 x 1500 / 365 = 139,068 g/day
CO : 39.6 x 3600 x 1500 / 365 = 585,863 g/day
For comparative purposes, EURO6 standard vehicle emission limits are :
NOx : 0.06g/km
CO: 1g/km
This means the power plant operation is equivalent of :
NOx: 2,317,808km/day
CO: 585,863km/day
Assuming each vehicle drives 5km/day in Mill Hill area, this level of pollution emission is equivalent to :
based on daily NOx emissions : about 463,000 standard vehicles
based on daily CO emissions : about 117,000 standard vehicles
This is not a technical method for calculating the pollution emissions for such projects, but the above simple calculations would give a comparative idea against our day-to-day experience.
One may suggest vehicle emissions are mostly important at road-side locations and dissipate with distance from the roads, but no one can ignore the air pollution effect of so many vehicles in a town or near a busy road. This power station gives the same impact to the area.
This pollution will be diluted over the area's atmosphere, but the pollution concentrations will be still very high near the power station, threatening the health of the local residents.
Such pollution sources must be kept away from populated areas. The emission is not at the street level, but from a 11m stack. The height of the emission contributes to lower concentrations on the ground level. Still, we can consider that effect as that number of vehicles passing through a fly-over at a height of 11m, which is quite normal!
Previously the applicant was allowed to avoid producing an Environmental Impact Assessment by Barnet Council’s Planning Department. This decision needs to be reversed and a very full EIA assessment completed before this application can be considered further.
We have sent these calculations to the Council. Perhaps the developer can refute them but they are based on figures from the application.
We encourage all Millhillians to also write to the Council to oppose this development.


Unknown said...

Thank for this, Roger.

I don't understand enough about it, but another question that needs asking is where will the gas come from?
Are we in for a risk of becoming a fracking site? This scares me.

Barnet council needs to employ Energy & Environment officer(s) to be able to address all the issues you flagged. I don't know if Barnet employs one, I suspect not but will be happy to be proven wrong. (There are even government funding streams that can be unlocked if such officers are employed, i.e. not costing the council).

As of April 2019, 'Barnet had no energy efficiency plans for homes or businesses in the borough'. [Source: Notes from Climate Change/Energy/Carbon Offsetting workshop delivered by Syed Ahmed, Energy for London, 28 April 2019 to Barnet Labour Policy Day]. (I'll be happy to send you these - there are other interesting facts in them).

tw said...

Thanks for that, Roger.

I don't know enough about this, but one additions question that needs asking is where will the gas come from?
Are we in for a risk of becoming a fracking site?! This scares me.

Barnet council needs to employ an Energy & Environment Officer to address the issues you flagged and unlock government funding streams that can help make the borough of Barnet energy efficient and decarbonized. I don't know whether they employ one, but I rather suspect not. I'll be very happy to be proven wrong on this.

As of April 2019, Barnet 'has no energy efficiency plans for homes or businesses in the borough', [Source: Notes from Climate Change/Energy/Carbon offsetting workshop given to Barnet Labour Policy Day on 28 April 2019 by Syed Ahmed of Energy for London; I'll be happy to send you the notes, there are other interesting facts in it].

This makes me concerned about what criteria will be employed by the Planning Committee when they come to evaluate this planning permission request.

Anonymous said...

Is there a petition we can all sign to try and stop this.

Rog T said...

I don't know of one. I would urge people to leave a comment rather than sign a petition as this carries more weight in the planning process. There is a link in the blog to comment