Islandmagee salt cavern dumping fears

An artist's impression of the proposed Gaelectric CAES facility at Islandmagee. Image c/o Gaelectric. INLT-07-706-con

An artist's impression of the proposed Gaelectric CAES facility at Islandmagee. Image c/o Gaelectric. INLT-07-706-con

  • Campaigner fears salt caverns used for CAES station could be used for dumping once Gaelectric project ends

  • Concern over duration of brine pumping

  • Sammy Wilson says he would prefer a gas power station

A local resident fears salt caverns at Gaelectric’s proposed CAES facility could be used to dump waste after the project finishes.

Chair of the newly-formed Stop Gaelectric campaign group Lisa Dobbie, who helped to organise a recent residents’ meeting to discuss the planned Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) facility, claims Gaelectric has not revealed its “end game” for the facility once the plant ceases operation.

‘This renewable energy drive is a load of nonsense’

MP Sammy Wilson

Planners are currently consulting on Gaelectric’s application to build the £300m CAES facility, which entails the creation of underground salt caverns to store energy in the form of compressed air, which would then be released to generate electricity when demand is high.

The company is proposing to pump brine, the waste by-product, into the sea, which has raised objections from environmentalists concerned with the impact on marine life.

“The power plant has a lifetime of up to 50 years, but what will happen to the salt caverns when it is finished operating?” Lisa asked.

“Other disused salt caverns around the world have been used to dump industrial waste, and I am worried that this could happen in Islandmagee.

“In 50 years’ time there will be waste companies who will find the empty caverns very useful for their businesses.

“Will Gaelectric reserve the right to sell the salt caverns on to such companies? If it is going to be used for industrial waste, it could be hazardous, and if it is domestic waste it means there will be a lot of traffic.”

Lisa also called into question the duration of the plant’s brine pumping operation.

“The planning application refers to ‘the use of the Marine Water Intake and Brine Pipeline/HDD sections for infrastructural maintenance and reworking of the Geological Storage Caverns over project lifetime,’ she explained.

“The phrase ‘project lifetime’ refers to the life span of the power plant, which we have been told is up to 50 years. The first paragraph appears to leave the door open for further solution mining, to maybe expand, or extend to further caverns.

“We have calculated that the equivalent of 250 tonnes of salt per hour will be pumped into the sea as brine for three years.

“However, in the planning application Gaelectric appears to reserve the right to continue to pump brine out for the entire duration of the project, ie up to 50 years.

“If it will take the marine environment two years to fully recover from a three-year brine pumping operation, how will it recover from a 50-year brine pumping operation?” Lisa concluded.

East Antrim DUP MLA Sammy Wilson described the Stop Gaelectric group’s concerns as “speculative” and said he did not believe the site would be suitable to dump hazardous material such as nuclear waste, which he said would normally be stored at a greater depth, and would require larger access points.

However, Mr Wilson said he would prefer a new gas power station rather than a CAES facility.

“A gas station which would provide a cheaper way to produce electricity, and a cheaper way to store energy would be to use batteries,” he told the Times.

“This renewable energy drive is a load of nonsense. I am concerned at the visual impact on the island where we have a major industrial complex including Ballylumford, the Moyle Interconnector and Islandmagee Gas Storage. I am also concerned at the impact of the building work on the road retwork.”

The Larne Times asked Gaelectric whether the company would reserve the right to sell the salt caverns to other companies at the end the project’s lifespan, and what the equivalent salt tonnage per hour and duration of brine pumping would be. In response, Gaelectric referred us to the 231-page Construction Management Plan and the 171-page document on the impact on the marine environment.

A spokesperson said: “Concerning the management of the specially-engineered CAES caverns post operation of the Project, this is addressed in the Construction Management Plan which is included at Appendix 5.1 of Volume 2, Part A of the Environmental Statement.

“Concerning potential impacts on the marine environment, these have been addressed under the worst case scenario and are detailed in Section 8B of the Environmental Statement.

“We encourage members of the public to review the information on the project that is currently on display, which addresses the questions asked.”

Copies of the Environmental Statement (ES) are available to view at Whitehead Library and at Gaelectric’s offices at Clarendon Dock in Belfast. The planning application and ES can be viewed at the DoE’s Strategic Planning Division, Causeway Exchange in Belfast and at www.planningni.gov.uk.

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