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How Green is my Cornwall?

How Green is my Cornwall?

Cornwall Council have a policy called “Green Cornwall”. At the last Cabinet meeting a kind of “end of term” report was given on many aspects of Council Policy. This was called The Integrated Performance Management Report Year end 2012-13, and in it, Green Cornwall is given a fairly clean bill of health, with a final proviso. This is: “However, there is a risk that the lack of resource moving forward has reached a point where the programme is
struggling to function effectively and retain its corporate focus and identity.” In other words they want more money.

In order to find out if it is worth finding the money in times of austerity and cuts to front line budgets, it is necessary to be clear what Green Cornwall stands for. Unfortunately the Council are somewhat wooly here. The overarching concern seems to be the need to reduce the Carbon Footprint and the reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. However, the plot seems to become convoluted when you try to find out why they want to do this. There is mention of targets, (presumably set by Government), and lots of carrot in terms of savings that can be made, jobs created etc. There doesn’t appear to be much about emissions reduction as a method of saving the planet and the environment and wildlife of Cornwall. I wonder why?

Well it could have something to do with this wonderful £150m toy that Cornwall Council and Sita are planning to build at St. Dennis. The Green policy is strong on renewable energy from non-fossil fuel sources, but is totally silent when it comes to where a 240,000 tonnes per year mass burn incinerator fits into all this. The reason why the Council are pushing a wind-turbine on every corner and a solar panel on every roof is supposed to be because these do not emit Greenhouse Gases or increase the Carbon Footprint. The incinerator is laughingly called Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre. This is a joke because there are two types of incinerators permitted by the Environment Agency, Disposal Facilities and Energy Recovery Facilities. Guess what? The St. Dennis facility is permitted as Disposal. Only plants burning concentrated fuel in the form of RDF can reach the level of efficiency to be classified as Energy Recovery. The St. Dennis Incinerator is even worse than most as it is not capable of using waste heat after electricity generation. This is called Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and the reason why none is being used is because due to its location, the plant had a very limited number of customers for waste steam heat. The developers had tied all their hopes on the local China Clay works taking the steam. However, when this was sold to a rival, they already had a more advanced method and did not want the steam. Incidentally, saving of jobs at the China Clay plant by providing cheap heat was one of the main points used to sway the Inspector at the Public Inquiry.

So now we come to the trump card, does the use of an Incinerator to generate power fit in with Green Cornwall Policy? The calculations here are very complex because they include lorry movements to transport waste to various locations, and the energy used in parts of the pre-treatment processes. However as a rule of thumb, Incineration produces a Carbon footprint and Greenhouse Gas emission about twice that of the best method of dealing with household waste. The best method is currently said to be Reduction/Sort/Recycle/Digest. By using this method over Incineration, Cornwall would save 2.5 million tonnes of Greenhouse Gas emissions over the life of the waste contract.

Why is this important to Green Cornwall? The key point here is that the original planning policy was to search for a site in Central Cornwall with easy access. They even managed to get that wrong because as explained at the Public Inquiry, it is not possible to use rail for transporting the waste for logistic reasons and freight capacity. The A30 does not feed directly into the site, and this has required the building of a £10 million road at the tax payers expense. And they have ended up with a site slap bang in the middle of an area which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an area of European Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This used to be the area including Goss Moor, but this is now being expanded to include a larger area and now named Mid-Cornwall Moors SAC. The main features of this area are special kinds of bog, heath and grass land. Also due to the covering of China Clay, there are some very special features that provide a habitat for wildlife.

In this area there are no less than four very rare species which will be under threat from the Incinerator. The main one is the rarest plant in the UK, known as Marsupella profunda, the Western Rustwort. This is a tiny moss like plant which only grows on crumbling China Clay. 50% of the world population occurs on this SAC. Despite being so rare, the authorities have taken the attitude, lets suck it and see what happens! In addition, a very rare bird Camprimulgus europeaus, the Nightjar also inhabits this SAC. Nightjars flying near the site of another planned Incinerator at Nottingham caused it to be rejected. There are also two rare butterflies, a rare mud snail, and a rare beetle.

Why are these plants and animals affected by the Incinerator? Well mainly because Incineration or burning is a process of oxidation. Thus many substances which go into the incinerator as something else, come out as an oxide gas. Once these oxide gases come into contact with moist air, they turn into acids. Thus waste containing Nitrogen such as garden and food waste produce Nitric Acid, substances containing Sulphur including textiles produce Sulphuric Acid, and substances containing Carbon such as plastics and paper produce Carbonic Acid. Plastics also produce high levels of Hydrogen Chloride which produces Hydrochloric acid. This whole lot forms together to produce Acid Rain. Marsupella is such a primitive plant that it does not have roots. It absorbs food in rain water through the surface of its leaf-like body. It also reproduces by letting its sex cells float towards each other on moisture. So near the incinerator it will be feeding and reproducing in a bath of acid.
For most other plants and animals the effect is not direct. However, these chemicals fall on the soil and are taken up by other plants which provide the food for animals. Thus the Nightjars feed on thousands of insects which rise each night from the boggy grasses. If the additional Nitrogen in the soil from the emissions of the Incinerator cause excess nitrate food for woody plants such as scrub willow and wild Rhododendrons these will out-shade the grasses and the Nightjars will not get their food. Similarly, the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly relies upon the Devils Bit Scabious as a food plant for its Caterpillars, and this will also be endangered.

Therefore, why, if all this is true, is there no mention of the Incinerator in the Green Cornwall Policy? Could it be because they want you to stay ignorant? Or because they can’t answer the obvious question? This is – if the current overt Green Cornwall policy is being undermined by an Incinerator which nobody on the Council seems to have the will to stop, why spend more money
we cannot afford, instead of cutting adult care, public toilets and road maintenance?

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