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Community campaigners rejoice after 18-month effort to stop polluters moving into Lawrence Hill.

The Plutus Energy diesel power station plan for Lawrence Hill has been rejected on appeal by a planning inspector, leaving the company no further options to pursue the application. Plutus had lodged the appeal four months ago against the council’s refusal to approve the plans due to air quality concerns.

Campaigners who opposed the plan are delighted at the news, having fought the proposal on the grounds that it would add to the already dangerously poor air quality in the area – especially with a nursery school just 250m away from the site. The inner-city location is in the most deprived, and one of the most polluted, wards in the city. The plan had been branded by one commentator ‘environmental racism’.

Stuart Phelps, one of the campaigners with the group RADE (Residents Against Dirty Energy) said he felt “f**king marvellous” about the planning inspectors decision. Other active opponents to the plan included headteachers, governors and parents from St Philips Marsh Nursery School and local councillors Hibaq Jama and Margaret Hickman.

The application was for a ‘flexible generation facility’ to back up the grid in times of high demand. Over the course of the 18 months, the company submitted one planning application that it withdrew when the council looked likely to reject it. It came back months later with a second application changing the proposed fuel of the plant from diesel to biodiesel.

Both times the council’s air quality officer recommended approval. However, the planning inspector’s decision notice states that this was “subsequently recognised as an error by the AQO”.

The council refused permission for the second application in September 2016, but Plutus Energy lodged an appeal to government’s planning inspector to have the decision overturned in March this year.

Both times the council’s air quality officer (AQO) recommended approval. However, unusually, the planning inspector’s decision notice states that this was “subsequently recognised as an error by the AQO”.

RADE were recognised as an official witness in the appeal after submitting an alternative air quality assessment which contradicted the studies submitted by Plutus. The campaigners also submitted a 17-page planning policy and evidence submission prepared by Liz Beth, a campaigner with experience as a planning consultant.

A protest against the plans outside City Hall, September 2016.

“We were assisted by legal and technical advice from amongst others; national experts in air quality and biofuels; a professor of law; and some key experts in relevant fields,” says Stuart Phelps. “They helped us because they recognised the seriousness of the situation, and our neighbours’ commitment despite a lack of resources.”

Earlier this year, some RADE campaigners and local residents also supported a planning application for a battery storage facility (see box) in Lockleaze, in a site that had also previously been subject to an application from Plutus Energy for a diesel power station. Phelps says this proved the campaign was not ‘anti-development’.

Phelps says the community spirit evoked by the campaign helped when energy was low: “Fellow citizens would say or do something that made you realise we had to win – a child running up to one of us and saying ‘thank you’; a taxi driver refusing to let someone pay on their way home from a late meeting; finding a piece of evidence in your inbox that had been sent in the early hours of the morning because someone had stayed up all night deciphering a technical report.”

What are battery storage facilities?

It’s hard to imagine a less-exiting two words than ‘battery’ and ‘storage’. But battery storage systems – which have started to arrive in Bristol – are about to prompt some transformational changes in the energy system. The technology is used smooth imbalances in electricity generation and demand, and one of the most promising applications for the green-minded is that it answers the ever-present renewables conundrum of intermittent generation.

We can’t rely on solar or wind power, so the argument goes, because they’re not consistent: What do we do when the wind stops blowing or the sun’s behind the clouds? The answer is electricity storage. The storage facilities could be ‘co-located’ with wind or solar generation, storing the energy at times of excess and releasing it when demand is higher.

Other battery storage facilities, such as the one to be built in Romney Avenue, Lockleaze, are linked up to the grid, taking energy and releasing it back to help manage supply at times of varying demand. On a smaller level, proliferation of domestic or institutional battery storage could allow homes, schools or hospitals to link up their own solar installations to the batteries and use the energy produced when it is required.

The 2017 surge for new applications for battery storage installations – Western Power Distribution has fielded applications some 2,000+ grid connections  – is in large part due to a drop in price of the most common technology.

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