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The Great Green Guzzler Con

January 1, 2017

By Paul Homewood


h/t Philip Bratby 




David Rose has this damning assessment of anaerobic digesters:


Shortly before midday on March 16, 2016, Richard Whittemore opened the gate of a 20-acre field near Plaistow in West Sussex to find a scene of devastation.

The babbling stream that flows through it had become a glutinous slick of black, toxic sludge.

He knew exactly what it was. The same thing had happened nine months earlier: a massive chemical spillage from the huge ‘green’ energy plant at the neighbouring Crouchland Farm, subsidised each year with millions of pounds from taxpayers.

The energy plant at the Crouchland Farm, in Sussex, which is subsidised each year with millions of pounds from taxpayers

The energy plant at the Crouchland Farm, in Sussex, which is subsidised each year with millions of pounds from taxpayers

In all, the spill, rich in poisonous ammonia, contaminated 70 of Mr Whittemore’s acres. In the following days, 28 of his pregnant ewes perished, along with 35 lambs and the fish and other wildlife in the stream for a distance of several miles. The Environment Agency warned that children and animals should stay well away from the polluted water.

‘Part of my reason for farming is to enjoy the countryside, and to work with animals,’ Mr Whittemore said yesterday. ‘To have this happen twice in a year was shattering. I felt like giving up.’

The toxic spill came from an anaerobic digester (AD), one of a fast-growing fleet of industrial machines that turn food and agricultural waste into methane, which is then fed into the national gas grid.

Their supporters claim they are a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way of producing gas to heat homes while curbing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Anaerobic Digester and Bioresources Association (ADBA), the industry’s lobby group, they will lead to ‘stable energy prices, fewer carbon dioxide emissions, and a financial saving for homes and businesses across the country’.

But the reality is this supposedly green energy source comes at a heavy cost to taxpayers and to the environment it is supposed to protect. An investigation by this newspaper has revealed that:

  • There is a massive shortage of food and farm waste, which ADs were originally supposed to use as ‘feedstock’. They rely increasingly on specially-grown crops from prime arable land, such as maize and sugarbeet.
  • New Government figures show that in June 2016, a staggering 131,000 acres of UK land were being used to grow maize for ADs – an increase of 50 per cent in one year. Environmental experts say maize is extremely destructive, permanently damaging soil.
  • Toxic spills from ADs are common and fast increasing. According to the Environment Agency, ADs caused 12 ‘serious pollution incidents’ in 2015 – a rise of more than 50 per cent on the previous year.
  • ADs don’t just leak, they sometimes explode. In 2014, an AD blast at Harper Adams University in Shropshire destroyed a huge containment tank and the building housing it, showering the surrounding land with tons of toxic slurry.
  • ADs making gas for the grid suck up £216 million a year in taxpayer-funded subsidies, making their gas more than three times as expensive as that from conventional sources – money that could be spent on the NHS or schools.
  • The Plaistow AD has been operating without planning permission since 2013 and faces a planning demolition order – yet in that time has received some £5 million in subsidy.
  • A Government ‘Impact Assessment’ warned last March that ‘agricultural crops are … not a cost effective means of biomethane production’. Crop-fed ADs might reduce emissions – but only at a cost many times higher than that of burning equal quantities of fossil fuel.
  • Ecotricity, owned by green multi-millionaire Dale Vince, says it wants to increase the number of ADs producing gas for the grid tenfold, by building 1,000 new plants. Construction of the first, at Sparsholt in Hampshire, is imminent.

Farmer Richard Whittemore had 70 acres contaminated after a toxic spill came from an anaerobic digester

Farmer Richard Whittemore had 70 acres contaminated after a toxic spill came from an anaerobic digester

The burgeoning AD gas industry is a relatively late addition to the ‘green’ energy scene. The first, small-scale plants, fed mainly by farm waste, did not ‘inject’ gas into the grid but burnt it to generate small amounts of electricity. About 400 of such plants have been built.

However, in 2011, the Coalition government introduced the Renewable Heat Incentive – a subsidy that made it profitable to build much bigger ADs to make gas for the grid, despite their enormous running costs. The first gas-to-grid plant came on-stream that year.

They rapidly took off. In December 2015, there were 70 gas-to-grid ADs, and now there are 86, prompting ADBA chief executive Charlotte Morton to comment: ‘Green gas has gone mainstream… Biomethane-to-grid is a real success story for the Renewable Heat Incentive.’ According to Ms Morton, AD gas heats 170,000 homes.

Others have long been more critical. Before his untimely death in 2016, the chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Professor David MacKay, warned: ‘Biofuels can’t add up.’

Farming and processing their feedstock took up so much energy that it almost cancelled out the energy they might produce, so that overall, ‘biofuels made from plants deliver so little power I think they are scarcely worth talking about’.

The AD planned for the Agricultural College in Sparsholt illustrates what he meant. According to Ecotricity, the gas it makes will have an energy output of 49,000 megawatts per year – enough to heat 4,000 homes.

But this, according to the firm’s calculations, will require 60,000 metric tonnes of feedstock from grass and rye to be grown on 3,000 acres of farmland and transported to the site. The AD will occupy 13 acres – an industrial site in the middle of exquisite countryside, the size of seven football pitches. Growing and harvesting the feedstock, and shipping it to the plant, will consume vast quantities of fossil fuel, mainly diesel.

Pictured: The anaerobic digestion facility at Apsley Estate near Andover, in Hampshire

Pictured: The anaerobic digestion facility at Apsley Estate near Andover, in Hampshire

As well as gas, ADs produce ‘digestate’, which weighs 85 per cent as much as the original feedstock. (Diluted, this can be used as a fertiliser.) To keep the Sparsholt AD operating, every year loads totalling 60,000 tons must be shipped in, and 50,400 tons shipped out.

According to Sparsholt campaigner Stewart Wooles, the 110,400-ton total is the same weight as two ships as big as the Titanic – ‘all being driven through the lanes of Hampshire every year’.

In its planning application – fiercely resisted by residents – Ecotricity admitted that the AD would trigger 12,792 separate vehicle movements a year, mainly tractors pulling trailers, on the narrow local roads – a recipe for traffic chaos.

Mr Wooles said: ‘Ecotricity claims it can get all its feedstock from a 15km (nine mile) radius. I very much doubt that, because they do not yet have a single contract with local farmers for supplying it, and another nearby AD is having to source its feedstock from many times that distance.

‘But even taking them at their word, transporting loads to and from the AD will consume 220,000 litres of diesel a year. That much in a family car would get you the distance to the moon and back five times.’

Yet still the plant is officially classed as ‘green’. John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, said that provided it is ‘registered’ by April, Ecotricity can expect to receive £2.43 million a year from taxpayers, on top of about £1 million from selling its gas to the grid. The subsidies mean AD gas costs about three-and-half times as much as that from fossil sources.

Pictured: Tankers coming to and from Crouchland Farm plant in Plaistow, west Sussex

Pictured: Tankers coming to and from Crouchland Farm plant in Plaistow, west Sussex

Ecotricity and Sparsholt College declined to comment to the MoS, claiming all these issues had been dealt with by the planning process.

Critics say ADs cause problems other than traffic. According to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), they can provide some local employment, but overall do damage to the local economy: ‘Pubs, hotels, stables, shoots, B&Bs, campsites, wedding venues and any parts of the tourism sector are adversely affected by the smell, the unsightliness and the traffic of a large-scale AD.’

A CPRE report on crop-fed digesters in the West Country added: ‘The countryside around the digesters is becoming an extension of the industrial nature of the AD sites themselves to the detriment of public amenity, the environment and the long-term welfare of the soil.’

In 2016, the Soil Association told the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee that the area of land being diverted into growing AD feedstock would be enough to produce two billion loaves of wholemeal bread. Growing maize, it added, was ‘subsidised soil destruction’.

In December, the new department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced that from April the subsidy per unit of gas would increase. But henceforth, it added, it would only be payable on half a new AD’s output if all its feedstock came from crops. The new policy may jeopardise Mr Vince’s plans to build 1,000 new ADs, although ADs that register before it comes into force will not be affected. Here again, Ecotricity declined to comment – although it continues to trumpet its ‘green gas’ campaign on its website.

Ecotricity, owned by green multi-millionaire Dale Vince (pictured), says it wants to increase the number of ADs producing gas for the grid tenfold, by building 1,000 new plants

Ecotricity, owned by green multi-millionaire Dale Vince (pictured), says it wants to increase the number of ADs producing gas for the grid tenfold, by building 1,000 new plants

Elsewhere, those who live near existing plants must continue to grapple with their consequences. Richard Whittemore farms rare breeds of grass-fed mountain sheep and Highland cattle. On the day of the March 2016 toxic spillage, caused by a flood of liquid digestate from one of the AD’s several open lagoons, he had 500 ewes due to give birth in a fortnight, and had been relying on the field’s lush grazing to feed them.

He was forced to sell almost 400 at knockdown, ‘fire sale’ prices, along with several bull calves. In all, the leak cost him £54,000 – for which he has not been compensated. The earlier leak in June 2015 also forced him to sell 400 animals and the cost was even higher, about £60,000.

Yet the Plaistow AD, run by Crouchland Biogas, has been refused planning permission and is currently subject to an order to demolish it – a decision the firm intends to appeal against in April. It is also covered by a separate order saying it must not truck in feedstock maize – which it still continues to do, in loads that sometimes total hundreds of tonnes per day.

Astonishingly, neither this nor the spillages have affected its subsidy. According to a BEIS official, the subsidies were still being paid ‘because biomethane is being produced’.

The fact that the plant did not have planning permission was a matter for the local authority.

Crouchland’s spokesman insisted the plant was ‘lawful’, saying its planning status would finally be determined at a public inquiry in April. He claimed it was opposed only by a ‘handful of our neighbours who continue to campaign against our farm’. In fact, the planning inspector has so far received 450 individual submissions opposing the plant and a 1,050-signature petition – and just five letters supporting it.


Anaerobic digesters are something that seem to have slipped under the radar in the last couple of years.

Early operations were typically small and farm based, intended as a way for farms to process their own waste.

We are now finding that they are fast becoming industrial operations in their own right, which would never obtain planning permission in a month of Sundays if they were intended for any other use.

Worse still, as with most other renewable technology, they would not exist without obscene subsidies.

It is strange that ecotards are so keen on ruining the countryside, purely so that we can save emitting a few molecules of CO2, something which, as David Rose points out, is highly debatable anyway.





It is worth recalling that the OBR is projecting the cost of the RHI to rise from £400 million a year, to £1200 million by 2021/22:




  1. January 1, 2017 10:47 am

    I’ve been opposing ADs in Devon for several years now, with limited success. We have one constructed which has already led to a fine for a spillage that polluted the local river. The damage to the local lanes from massive vehicles transporting crops in and digestate out has to be seen to be believed.

    The situation at Crouchlands has to be read about to be believed. The scope of the illegal development is unbelievable, and it has been allowed to go on for years. Go to the following website and read the news items.

    • protectourruralenvironment permalink
      January 2, 2017 10:14 am

      Thanks for your support Phillip

  2. January 1, 2017 11:18 am

    Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    New on my radar. I thought I had seen it all but unfortunately not. Is there no end to this “green” madness?

  3. Joe Public permalink
    January 1, 2017 11:22 am

    The ‘con’ is much worse than even David Rose reports.

    “Gas consumers are charged on the basis of the amount of energy their gas contains (calorific value). However, the energy content of gas is not measured at people’s gas meters.

    Instead, gas network operators, such as National Grid, measure the calorific value of the gas being injected at each entry point on their pipeline networks and work out an average calorific value.

    Because new, lower carbon alternatives to natural gas, such as bio-methane, have a lower energy content than natural gas, the current energy calculation process requires that bio-methane producers have to add propane, a costly greenhouse gas, to bring it up to the average calorific value of the traditional gas sources.

    The pioneering pilot will look at how customers can be billed using the calorific value of the gas they actually receive, rather than using an average.

    This should remove the need for alternative, low carbon gas producers to add costly propane to their gas to bring it up to an average calorific value, and so open the door to more environmentally-friendly alternatives to natural gas.”

    [My bold]

    So, instead of forcing the suppliers of this manufactured gas to meet the standards of the 80billion cu m of natural natural gas supplied each year, the powers-that-be are considering adding to the complexity of the proposed ~20 million smart gas meters.

    • January 1, 2017 11:42 am

      There are several ways in which the con is extended. They can inject propane and claim the subsidy for all the gas fed to the grid. If they use some of the gas on-site to produce electricity, they can claim the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) for the electricity produced and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for the heat that is used or as we saw in Northern Ireland, even if it is wasted. Other unlawful practices involve using illegal loads, using red diesel, claiming agricultural subsidies for energy crops. The developers know all the tricks to use to outwit all the bureaucrats and get as much money as they can. It must be one of the worst scams ever invented by politicians and bureaucrats.

    • January 1, 2017 3:53 pm

      hmmm ………….. I wonder how much propane they typically use per cu m of biogas?
      Apparently biogas can have 25 – 55% co2 (avg 35%)

      and “Biogas contains roughly 60% of the energy of natural gas and provides an important energy alternative for farms capable of implementing anaerobic digestion systems”;sequence=1

      Sounds like a lot of propane is needed

      • Dave Ward permalink
        January 1, 2017 5:13 pm

        “Apparently biogas can have 25 – 55% co2 (avg 35%)”

        Why not require the biogas producers to remove the CO2 (at their expense)? I don’t wonder it has a lower calorific value if a third of the volume is a gas often used to EXTINGUISH flames…

      • protectourruralenvironment permalink
        January 2, 2017 10:13 am

        The Co2 is removed at Crouchland Biogas – and guess what – just been released to atmosphere for the past 3 years!

  4. mikewaite permalink
    January 1, 2017 3:22 pm

    Is there any chance that Tom Heap will discuss these issues, very disturbing for rural residents and businesses , on BBC’s Countryfile?

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      January 1, 2017 3:46 pm

      Dung Heap, I call him….and not a chance.

      • January 1, 2017 4:16 pm

        I call him far worse – a Heap of …..

        The BBC will not criticise any form of renewable energy, regardless of how environmentally damaging it is, unless it has permission from Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth. It has covered anaerobic digesters in the past, but only in a favourable light in comparison to “controversial” fracking. See this example regarding trougher Dale Vince trying to spoil fracking:

    • protectourruralenvironment permalink
      January 2, 2017 10:12 am

      Be great if someone could ask him

  5. John Smith permalink
    January 1, 2017 5:18 pm

    ADs are a growing fashion in Scotland. My understanding is that around here they use the gas produced to power generators and “sell” the electricity. I have been told by one operator (spiv?) that the engines powering the generators need to be rebuilt after a short time because they use huge American petrol engines not designed to run off this stuff. The slurry is a byproduct of cattle farming (shit) and is usually spread onto the fields to stimulate growth of grass for animal feed, but it is now being shunted around between farms & ADs before being sprayed onto fields in diluted form after having (the useful part?) removed.
    All paid for by us via subsidies.

    • AlecM permalink
      January 1, 2017 6:31 pm

      Why not use the dead bodies of the Greenies and Bad politicians…..

  6. Bob Sykes permalink
    January 1, 2017 8:38 pm

    Having earned an MS and PhD studying anaerobic digesters, I can say that a starch and sugar rich feed is the worst possible. The product gas is only about 50% methane (the actual fuel product), and the fermentation is unstable to fluctuations in the feed. Rapid increases in the feed rate tend to produce large amounts of volatile fatty acids, especially acetic, propionic and butyric. The mixture is odiferous to say the least, and the acidity of the ferment kills off the methanogens. It would be possible to recover the failed process if you had a number of other digesters operating successfully, because you could fed the acidified ferment at a very low rate to the working digesters. In normal processes, the methanogens and their symbionts convert the acids to methane and carbon dioxide. However, it appears that the operators use only single or double units.

    In any case, the discharge of the acidified ferment to a stream of any size would be illegal in the US, and the discharge of an acidic wastewater to sewers would be either prohibited or strictly regulated. The addition of propane, a product of oil wells and a fossil fuel, is bizarre to say the least. Britain’s energy sector appears to be a truly Wild West fiasco.

  7. CheshireRed permalink
    January 1, 2017 9:57 pm

    Madder than a box of frogs.

  8. January 2, 2017 2:27 am

    It is in anticipation of this sort of crap that we have The 2nd Amendment in the USA!

  9. Commander permalink
    January 2, 2017 3:27 am

    I just do not understand how its allowed to go on like this. Why is there no formal opposition in parliament, surely its not rocket science to draw up a spreadsheet, and show clearly this is costing money, and not saving the planet at all, in fact the reverse.

  10. Graeme No.3 permalink
    January 2, 2017 4:55 am

    Surely there is a case for the farmer to claim damages? Or are all green schemes protected?

    • protectourruralenvironment permalink
      January 2, 2017 10:11 am

      Crouchland Biogas say they won’t pay!

      • Gerry, England permalink
        January 2, 2017 12:23 pm

        Pitchforks and flaming torches at the ready! Or is this where we find out the consequences of the reduction in the workforce on the land? Just a couple is not very threatening.

  11. Bloke down the pub permalink
    January 2, 2017 11:34 am

    The same activists who support these industrial plants in the countryside will be campaigning against fracking .

    • John Palmer permalink
      January 2, 2017 5:32 pm

      Quite so…. the picture at the top shows an area nearly as big as a fracking well requires.
      The difference is that once built and running, the well just needs routine management, no HGV’s, no stinks, no slurry (sorry, ‘digestate’). And it produces 24/7 for many, many years. All without subsidies.
      No wonder the greenies hate the idea – how can anything work without shedloads of taxpayer dosh?

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