Biogas plant plans remain on track despite water fears

SCOTLAND’s first farm-scale biogas plant is a step closer – but the Hawick farmer behind the initiative says his plans hinge on securing permission for a wind turbine, writes Kenny Paterson.

The first stage of Jim Shanks’ green scheme – a digestion plant which uses agricultural waste to produce electricity – was approved at Monday’s Scottish Borders Council planning meeting. But he still needs to win support for a single 74-metre high wind turbine at his Standhill Farm to power the plant, which Mr Shanks says would create six jobs.

Mr Shanks told TheSouthern: “I am delighted my application got through planning but there is a long, long way to go.

“For the biogas plant to go ahead I need the wind turbine or the grid connection costs to be lowered.”

There was a failed attempt to have the application refused by Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne – the Conservative leader at Newtown shared a number of fears raised by nearby residents.

They included suggestions that the plant may use high volumes of water, the plant could grow to an industrial scale and that waste maybe imported into Standhill to power the plant, increasing traffic on the minor road network surrounding the farm.

Councillor Ballantyne said: “My concern is the applicant’s supporting information regarding future use of the farm to produce tomatoes and honey.

“I can’t help feeling this is a pre-cursor to a bigger application. I share the concerns around water use and roads.

“I fear it won’t be long before they come back with further applications.”

But Mr Shanks replied: “It is disappointing to hear some of the objections such as those regarding use of water.

“A biogas plant uses as much water as a turbine or solar panel but this argument has been given credibility.

“The plant will also use only silage from the farm so there won’t be an increase in traffic.” 
A previous application for a wind turbine at Standhill gathered 200 objections last year before it was withdrawn due to uncertainty regarding the effect on Eskdalemuir nuclear test monitoring station, which Mr Shanks says still remains.

Without the biogas scheme, which has attracted interest from three major food retailers, wood fuel production at Standhill will not be possible. And it would rule out the farm achieving organic status.

Mr Shanks added: “If this comes to fruition it really will be something positive for the Borders. We have to decide whether we want the Borders to become a retirement village or a working economy.”

Berwickshire councillor Donald Moffat added his support to the scheme at Monday’s meeting. He said: “This is a very innovative application.

“Farming in the region should be moving forwards, not backwards. This is a back to basics approach.”