Another scheme to produce hydrogen from methane in Surrey has been opposed by county council planners.
The proposal, by IGas plc, seeks to turn gas extracted from the Albury Park wellsite near Guildford into grey hydrogen, without carbon capture and storage.
County councillors are due to consider the scheme at a meeting next week. An 80-page report by planners has recommended refusal.
The Albury Park site is surrounded by ancient woodland, in the green belt and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is also within a grade 1 registered park and a designated site of nature conservation importance noted for lichens.
Planners have concluded:
- The industrial nature and scale of the development would not preserve or enhance the openness of the green belt
- IGas has failed to demonstrate there are very special circumstances which outweigh the harm to the green belt
- Insufficient ecology survey information has been provided to demonstrate the proposal would not result in an unacceptable risk to protected species, particularly lichens
- IGas has failed to show that the proposal is in the public interest and there are exceptional circumstances to justify development in the AONB
In October last year, Surrey’s planning committee unanimously refused planning permission for a similar scheme by IGas at its Bletchingley site. Planners had also recommended refusal of that application.
Albury gas is currently exported to the network via a pipeline and used in an on-site electricity generator.
IGas now wants to install a steam methane reformation (SMR) unit to produce up to 1000kg of hydrogen per day and transport it off site.
IGas has said the hydrogen generator unit would be 16.5m long, 3m wide and up to 7.6m high with an exhaust flue of 10.9m. The transport unit would 12.2m long, 2.4m wide and 2.6m high.
The application has taken 19 months to come before the planning committee.
The planners’ report said hydrogen production would count as a secondary industrial process, rather than mineral extraction.
They said it would be “inappropriate development in the green belt” and the buildings would cause “limited harm to green belt openness”. They concluded:
“the very special circumstances have not been demonstrated that outweigh the harm”.
They said they were not satisfied that processing the hydrogen must take place at the Albury site.
The planners said the Albury proposals represented major development in the Surrey Hills AONB.
Planning law says major development should be refused unless the proposal is in the public interest and there are exceptional circumstances.
The planners’ report said:
“The very special circumstances necessary to justify the use of the application site for hydrogen production have not been demonstrated [by IGas].”
It also said:
“Officers consider that insufficient and outdated evidence has been provided to demonstrate that an alternative site, outside of the designated area, would not be viable. Furthermore, no evidence has been provided to demonstrate that it would be cost effective for the hydrogen to be transported off-site.”
Low carbon hydrogen
IGas has estimated the Albury scheme would save 2,769 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) a year.
But Surrey County Council’s greener futures team (GFT) said that without carbon capture, the proposal would generate significant greenhouse gas emissions and should be refused.
GFT analysis showed that the IGas figure did not include production emissions. If they were included, the report said, the scheme would emit 57,554 tonnes of CO2-eq over its lifetime.
The report estimated that the proposed SMR unit would emit 3,688 tonnes of CO2-eq per year from hydrogen production. This would amount to 0.46% of emissions for the borough of Guildford and 0.056% of emissions for Surrey.
Planners also said Albury production would not comply with the government hydrogen strategy:
“whilst it is accepted that the application site could make a contribution to the energy mix, officers are not satisfied that the production facilities, in the form of SMR using fossil fuels without CCUS, would be compatible with the ambitions, targets, and proposals set out in the hydrogen strategy for low carbon hydrogen production. Therefore the proposal would not meet Government targets and ambitions.”
The planners agreed that hydrogen production would serve an “ever-growing fuel cell market”. But it said IGas had “failed to demonstrate that the Guildford Borough market/economy would be a beneficiary”.
The report also acknowledged that that hydrogen produced at Albury could be used in vehicles, as a substitute for diesel. But it said:
“there is no certainty as to where the produced hydrogen would be delivered to and no absolute certainty about what other fuels it may substitute”.
The report raised concerns that emissions from the SMR flue would have a significant impact on lichen habitats in the surrounding ancient woodland. It said IGas had failed to demonstrate that the lichen would be protected, as required by national and local planning policy.
Planners said they were:
“unable to undertake an appropriate assessment as the applicant [IGas[ has not provided sufficient information on the lichen habitats within the immediate and surrounding area.”
They said that without a lichen assessment, the impacts on this habitat cannot be fully assessed or ruled out. This meant that the proposal did not comply with national and local planning policy, they said.
The planners said there had been 161 letters of objection to the application and one of support. The opponents included the Woodland Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, The British Lichen Society, Save Surrey Countryside and the Weald Action Group.
As well as concerns about the green belt, AONB, carbon emissions and lichens, there were objections about noise, light pollution, traffic, and the impact on nearby residents.
The Weald Action Group, a network which campaigns against oil and gas developments in southern England, welcomed the planners’ recommendation to refuse:
“We are pleased that the Surrey greener futures team confirmed that the IGas claim that this proposal was low carbon is incorrect. The production of “grey” hydrogen uses a chemical reaction that produces additional amounts of carbon dioxide, and IGas has discounted these in their application.
“The planners also confirmed our point that national policies do not support the production of high-carbon hydrogen.
“Surrey County Council has delayed considering this application for a number of months. We now see that this has allowed them to consider the application very thoroughly and we thank them for it.”
- IGas’s application for Albury hydrogen production is on the agenda for Surrey County Council’s planning committee on Wednesday 29 March 2023, starting at 10.30am, in the council chamber, Woodhatch Place, 11 Cockshot Hill, Reigate RH2 8EF. Link to agenda
IGas application for an environmental permit for methane production at Albury
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