When considering air quality, biofuels are not sustainable (smoke issue in Glasdir)

The following blog post is from Elena Vardoulaki, Glasdir resident who’s been actively following and reporting the smoke situation with several other residents.

“It was almost exactly a year ago when concerns about the smoke emissions in Glasdir started appearing in public forums and social media.

The operations in the neighbouring industrial estate, which for the last decade have been mostly part of the background noise, were now becoming much more than a nuisance. In fact, the regular incidents of excessive smoke were starting to raise serious questions about the air quality in that part of Ruthin – questions that continue to this day.

Chimneys in the industrial estate opposite Glasdir (21.01.2021.)

Despite the increasingly enthusiastic co-operation of the council, local politicians and the operating companies causing the issue, the Residents’ Association continues to record events of excessive smoke with a frequency of once a month or so. In addition, some residents have taken it upon themselves to monitor air quality on a nearly daily basis, their readings regularly shared with NRW, DCC, local councillors and AMs as well as the management of the companies themselves.

Video caption of an air monitor device at the front of the estate (14.01.2021.)

Before long the relevant council departments were persuaded to invest in some professional monitoring equipment – a decision which started as a short-term response to the Glasdir problem but one which has morphed into a long-term investment by the council, who are now able to provide the tools and capability to monitor air quality elsewhere in the county. Having now purchased the kit outright, monitoring will remain in place in Glasdir for the colder months of the year, which is when residents reported the most frequent and serious incidents last winter.

The local council investment in this equipment may seem surprising but it is understandable – along with climate change, air quality is an area of particular focus by both the public and the government.

Air monitor station at the entrance of the estate (11.06.2021.)

And both these topics lead to the usual conversation about sustainability and renewable energy.
Often when talking about renewable energy, people think of a simple swap between fossil fuels and ‘free’ energy sources such as sunlight and wind.

The rules, regulations and legislation that have been introduced to support this transition include many more options under the moniker of ‘renewables’ – biomass being one such option. Biomass presents many benefits: it is, without doubt, renewable and sustainable in terms of sourcing, often the by-product of other activities such as logging and forest management and the manufacture of wood products. It is also cheap, usually locally sourced and classed as a low-carbon alternative. All these reasons make it an ideal fuel for the production of heat and electricity, a process which is often combined.

What does this actually mean in practice?

In order to take advantage of the biofuel benefits as well as the considerable incentives provided by the government, companies invest heavily in state of the art systems that produce heat and electricity from biofuels on their own premises. As an added benefit they can sell any surplus back to the grid, while touting their green credentials to customers and investors.

The direct result for local communities can be significant and, on occasion, devastating. When the burning of biomass is badly managed, it has a direct impact on the immediate environment and the quality of life of the residents who happen to be located in the vicinity. In simple terms, it’s like living next to a neighbour who indulges in a massive, smoky bonfire – 24/7.

It cannot be ignored that those local businesses relying on the biomass fuel for their operations are providing jobs to local people, some our very own neighbours, and much needed revenue to our council – revenue from which we also benefit. The question is, is it worth it? Is this a truly ‘sustainable’ approach for the environment and the local communities? When the full picture is considered, the answer is likely not.

It is also a potentially short-sighted and damaging strategy. Biofuels, although a better alternative to fossil fuels, remain a carbon-emitting option and will, inevitably, have to be phased out. With atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and, as a result, temperatures continuing to rise, we are fast approaching the point where half-measures will need to be replaced by radical ‘painful’ changes in the way we do things. It is surely a much better approach for governments to create policies which support energy options that are truly sustainable and can remain operational for several decades rather than just the foreseeable future.”

One thought on “When considering air quality, biofuels are not sustainable (smoke issue in Glasdir)

  1. “…the Jefferies equity analyst Luke Sussams said bioenergy was unlikely to make a positive contribution to climate action because of “uncertainties and poor practices” in some parts of the timber industry regarding the sources of wood, forest management practices, supply chain emissions and high combustion emissions.”https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/19/drax-dropped-from-index-of-green-energy-firms-amid-biomass-doubts


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