£1bn Pembroke Power Station officially opens

Pembroke Power Station, the largest of its type in Europe, will power 3.5 million homes

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A ceremony has been held to mark the completion of a £1bn gas-fired power station in Pembrokeshire.

RWE npower has said its Pembroke Power Station, the largest of its type in Europe, will power 3.5 million homes.

Wales Office minister Stephen Crabb welcomed the boost to the economy, with 100 long term jobs created.

However, the European Commission is investigating how the permissions for the plant were granted and whether it damages the marine environment.

Analysis

RWE npower will be pleased this £1bn gas power station is completed, and starting to earn some money by producing electricity for the National Grid.

According to the company's chief operating officer Kevin McCullough, the technology is "state of the art" and the five combined cycle gas turbines are 60% efficient.

Gas is piped beneath the Milford Haven waterway, near to Pembroke Dock.

Some environmentalists, especially Friends of the Earth, believed the technology used to be wasteful - firstly in not using all the waste heat emitted, and more controversially in using water from the Cleddau estuary to cool the five gas-fired turbines, before draining it back, 8C warmer, into a special area of conservation.

After months of pressure, the European Commission agreed to look at Friends of the Earth's complaints, and that investigation in Brussels is still ongoing.

Since July others locally have noticed strands of white foam at low tide near the outflow pipes from the power station.

The embarrassment may be the timing just before the official opening, rather than any lasting environmental damage.

The Environment Agency concedes it's unexpected, but says it has been tested and hasn't been found to be harmful.

It's likely to be caused by algae and plankton being broken down organically in the estuary, but the EA will ask RWE to try and reduce the amount of foam in future.

Planning permission for the station was granted by the UK government in 2009, and it was granted a permit by the Environment Agency last November.

After three years of contruction work, control of the final part of the plant was handed over to the station team last week.

RWE npower described the facility as one of Europe's largest and most efficient combined cycle gas turbine plants.

It said it would provide a highly flexible and reliable source of energy.

Mr Crabb, who is the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, was among 200 guests at the official opening ceremony.

Speaking before what will be his first official visit since joining the Wales Office, he said: "I have no doubt that Pembroke Power Station will play a vital role in maintaining the UK's energy supplies for the future, and make its own contribution to creating economic prosperity for Wales."

Friends of the Earth Cymru has complained that the station, which takes water from the Cleddau estuary as a coolant and discharges it back at a higher temperature, could damage marine life in a special area of conservation.

PEMBROKE POWER STATION FACTFILE

  • The 2000MW station will generate enough electricity to power 3.5 million homes
  • It has been built on the site of an old oil-fired power station which operated from 1968 - 1997
  • It has created around 100 skilled long-term jobs, the majority of which its operators say have been filled by people either currently or originally from Pembrokeshire
  • At the height of construction, almost 2,000 people were working on the site
  • Over 10,000 contractors worked 7.4 million man hours to complete the facility
  • The station will bring an ongoing benefit of at least £10m per year to the local economy, say its operators
  • Source: RWE npower

Environmental campaigners have also criticised the station's technology as "second rate" when Wales should be aiming at more sustainable technology.

David Hughes, head of the European Commission office in Cardiff, confirmed that it was currently dealing with a complaint into the plant, and was in touch with the UK authorities on the matter.

"What the commission is looking at now is a complaint that the permissions that were granted for building and operating the power station were not granted in the proper way," said Mr Hughes.

"The other aspect of the investigation is a possible adverse effect on the Cleddau estuary."

Mr Hughes said the commission hoped to wind the investigation up in the next couple of months and would come to a conclusion on whether or not to proceed with, or drop, the complaint.

Environment Agency Wales said it had set out strict conditions to protect and maintain the environment as part of the permit for the power station.

"This followed extensive consultation with interested parties and detailed investigations into potential environmental impacts," said a spokesman.

Both the Wales Office and the Welsh government have said they are satisfied with the plant and the technology used.

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