Mendlesham: Straw power row hots up

Dr Andrew Toft, director of projects at Eco2 Ltd, at the Mendlesham site the company is hoping to de

Dr Andrew Toft, director of projects at Eco2 Ltd, at the Mendlesham site the company is hoping to develop - Credit: Archant

THE company behind controversial plans to create a straw-fired power station in Suffolk says there is “simply no logic” to claims that livestock farmers would lose out if the scheme goes ahead.

Pig farmers have vowed to continue to fight plans to create a £100million plant at Mendlesham, near Stowmarket. after developers Eco2 submitted new planning information earlier this month.

The proposals, for a site at Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, were subject to two legal challenges last year, and have attracted opposition from some high-profile food and farming businesses in the county. Now a further consultation period has begun following the submissions.

Blythburgh-based pig farmer Jimmy Butler said he feared the plant will cause scarcity and push up the price of straw for businesses such as his. He also said funds were being raised from residents and livestock farmers to fight the application.

But Andrew Toft, director of projects at Eco2, said the company was satisfied there was sufficient straw to support all the straw-fired power stations currently planned for the UK, and that there was excess straw that could be baled and therefore demand can increase without affecting prices.

“Eco2 is satisfied that there is sufficient straw to support all of the straw-fired power stations currently planned for the UK. This is not a planning issue but it is a fundamental commercial point.

“Eco2 is an experienced developer and would not have invested the considerable time, money and effort required to bring forward a £100m project without certainty over fuel supply,” said Dr Toft.

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Eco2 says the plans have already been the subject of “the highest scrutiny”, and is confident in the site and the project as a whole.

But Mr Butler says he fears a straw shortage.

“As massive straw users in conjunction with many local residents we find we are again have to challenge this application,” he said.

“We believe that with the straw burning plant at Ely already working and permission already granted for plants at Snetterton, Brigg and Sleaford that the Eastern Counties already has a sufficient amount of these plants and any spare straw available for farmers to sell will have been taken up.

“What we do know is that it is certain to cause a significant long term straw price increase for livestock farmers, particularly with the erratic weather we are now experiencing causing the straw yield to drop dramatically, that is in 2011 straw yield was low due to a spring drought and the prospects for the yield in 2013 are looking poor.”

But Dr Toft said: “There is simply no logic to the suggestion that baling contractors would react to a new demand by switching from supplying livestock farming to supplying power production.”

Suppliers had plenty of time to increase supply to cope with increased demand, he added.

“The fact is that growing cereals produces more straw than is needed in the UK. The excess is ploughed back. There is spare straw but the straw market is designed to be in balance. Straw suppliers aim to bale only the straw that they can sell.

“The presence of a new straw-fired power station is telegraphed well in advance and straw suppliers have ample time to increase stocks to meet this new and highly predictable demand.”

He added that annual variations in straw availability were “a fact of life” in the agricultural sector.

“The amount of straw that is actually baled is less variable since the market has the ability to react in a poor year by baling more of what is available. Again, the market tends towards matching supply to demand. Incidentally, this is why it is inappropriate to make comparisons with the price of wheat grain – we know no farmers that plough back excess grain,” he said.

Eco2 “fully expects” straw suppliers to seize the opportunity to expand, he said.