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Huge ‘Bennachie-shaped’ waste plant approved for former Inverurie paper mill site

Developers say the new plant has been designed to resemble Bennachie

A huge “Bennachie-shaped” energy from waste plant will be built outside Inverurie, securing Aberdeenshire’s place at the forefront of the green energy revolution.

Developers say the “world class” facility, which was approved by the council today, will mean the area is “recognised as a visionary leader” in the sector.

The plant will be built on the site of the former Inverurie paper mill at Kirkwood Commercial Park, just off the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road.

It will create 300 jobs during the construction phase and 40 permanent positions when it is processing 240,000 tonnes of waste every year.

Agile Energy says it will contribute £1 million to the local authority in business rates annually, while the construction and commissioning phase will boost the region by an estimated £20m.

The firm’s boss, Alf Robertson, told councillors much more investment could follow in the future as the plant forms the first phase of a planned Thainstone Energy Park development.

But the decision to rubber-stamp the proposal came despite some local objections.

The site was previously occupied by this Thomas Tait Paper Mill, pictured here when it was thriving in 1981

How will plant work?

Waste will be brought to the site east of the River Don from businesses across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.

Electricity generated during the incineration will be exported to the national grid, helping to decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

The massive plant will feature 27 different components, with a maximum height of 230ft for the plume.

The tallest building, housing the incinerator and machinery, will reach 164ft.

Agile Energy has designed that structure to resemble the outline a very famous neighbour.

Papers lodged with the council state: “An approach taken by the architect in forming the building design was for its profile to mimic the distinctive profile of Bennachie.”

‘Platform for the future’

Mr Robertson, a former director with several energy firms, described himself as a “life-long Aberdeenshire resident, and a responsible and ethical developer” as he addressed the councillors.

He said: “This facility will be world class, resulting in Aberdeenshire being recognised as visionary leader.

“This will replace landfill with a carbon-neutral facility more efficient than others like it in the UK.

“It will be a platform for the future and other investment will come in time.”

A before and after impression of how the plant will look from Port Elphinstone

The Agile Energy leader said the site will complement the Ness energy from waste plant being built in Aberdeen by processing commercial rubbish that it won’t have the capacity to handle.

There are also plans to base a community visitor centre there, to help children to learn about the site’s history and how the technology works.

Local objections

Port Elphinstone man Ronald Parr has worked as a scientist in the energy industry for 30 years and urged councillors to knock back the scheme.

He said: “This will emit substantial greenhouse gases rather than capturing them and storing them.

“The plant will lose 70% of its heat energy, which is highly inefficient.

“And the applicant expects my community to be encumbered by hundreds of HGVs for this plant.”

Mid Formartine councillor Paul Johnston echoed those concerns, as he pleaded with his fellow members to vote against the plans.

East Garioch representative Martin Ford praised Agile Energy for the “imaginative” idea to “echo a well-loved local landscape feature” in the design.

But he sided with Mr Johnston, saying he felt many of the suggested benefits were “potential things that might not happen”.

The site as seen from Kinkell Church, in this before and after image.

Mr Robertson argued that ultimately the development would aim to have carbon capture capabilities, and insisted ways of making use of the heat energy are being considered already.

He also explained that lorries visiting the site would not adversely impact pollution levels as they currently have to visit Peterhead to take waste to landfill.

‘Tremendous opportunity’

Mid Formartine councillor Jim Gifford said his fellow members should take a leap of faith and embrace the plans.

Mr Gifford said: “The site was looking pretty tired when I was last down there, and this is a tremendous opportunity.

“We spend half our lives in the north-east talking about energy transition and new emerging technology.”

Eventually councillors decided to endorse the major application by 41 votes to 21, with two members abstaining.

Speaking after the decision, Mr Robertson said: “The approval of our planning application allows us to proceed with the first phase of our vision to develop Thainstone Energy Park, a world-leading, low carbon energy development.

“Today’s decision also provides a great opportunity to utilise proven leading edge technology, create new business and employment opportunities and collaborate with our partners to expand the reach and benefit that the facility will deliver to the community in Aberdeenshire.

“We are sure that this energy recovery facility will play an important role in helping to address the Scottish Government’s forthcoming ban on the landfilling of biodegradable waste.”

The Inverurie paper mill was a major part of the town for more than 150 years before it closed in 2009.

The triumph and tragedy behind Thomas Tait’s involvement with Inverurie paper mill