Paul Duffy, the council’s head of planning, told the meeting on Thursday that the proposal is “another stage in the conversion of Kilroot Power Station from oil and coal- fired generation to alternative sources of energy generation”.
“The energy produced by the proposed combined heat and power facility will be directly connected to the electricity transmission network via an underground link,” he explained.
He said that it is anticipated that the facility will be up-and-running by the end of 2025 to help achieve a reduction in carbon emissions.
He noted that the power station has been operational since 1982 and consists of dual-fired oil and coal units. It converted to coal in the late 1980s and is now “almost exclusively” fired by coal and is the only coal-fired station operating in Northern Ireland.
He explained that the proposed development would be located on the grounds of the existing coal storage yard which will be decommissioned as the power station transitions to gas-fired generation.
It is anticipated that the facility will handle a throughput of 314,000 tonnes per annum of pre-treated, non-recyclable waste and biomass.
Mr Duffy continued: “It is intended that a combined heat and power facility will operate as a merchant facility and will source fuel from commercial contracts and partnerships within the Northern Ireland market.
“The proposed development will be designed to supply heat in the future with minimum modification. It is proposed the heat will be transferred to a closed hot water circuit via a series of condensing heat exchangers and supplied to customers through a pre-insulated varied hot water pipeline. Identified consumers include offices and warehouses in Kilroot Business Park.”
He went on to say that the largest section of the proposed building will be 58 metres in height and there will be a chimney stack 120 metres high. There will be a three-storey administration building located beside the power station complex.
He added that the existing chimney stack of Kilroot Power Station is 198 metres. Mr Duffy suggested the new development will not create “any significant additional visual impact”.
He went on to say that planners have received two objections to the application, from Endeavour Limited and arc21, a waste management group for six Northern Ireland councils, including Mid and East Antrim.
One objection, he reported, questioned the council’s vires to determine the application and capacity of the proposed development.
The committee heard the Department for Infrastructure considered the application not to be regionally significant to the whole or a substantial part of Northern Ireland and is not a “substantial departure” from the Local Development Plan.
The description of the pre- community consultation advertisement was also questioned.
Mr Duffy stated: “Given that the primary purpose of the facility is to generate heat and power and combined heat and power facilities are an established energy from waste technology, the description of the proposal is considered to be accurate.”
He noted that it is not a waste management facility. He pointed out that arc21 had asked for the application to be deferred and for it to be consulted but he indicated that this body is not a statutory consultee.
Ian Luney, a director of Kilroot and Ballylumford Power Stations, said that both plants have been operating for over 40 years, placing power generation as the “cornerstone” of the borough’s economy.
“Not only do they provide significant local employment and supply chain opportunities, but also around £2m in rates every year which contributes to delivery of local services in your council area.”
Mr Luney added that EP UK Investments are “completely committed to taking forward significant investment at both sites”.
Mr Luney outlined the company’s vision for the creation of a £600m energy park at the Kilroot site which includes a wide range of electricity generation solutions such as the multi-fuel heat and power facility.
He went on to say that the new facility would be sufficient to power more than 100,000 homes. He anticipated this project will create 550 construction jobs and 40 permanent “high quality” engineering jobs once operational.
Mr Luney described the proposed development as a “catalyst” for Kilroot Energy Park providing low cost heat.
Larne Lough DUP Alderman Paul Reid described the application as “a good news story for Mid and East Antrim”.
Mr Luney stressed the power station is now in an “entirely different position” compared to 2018 when Kilroot was faced with potential closure.
“We are investing significantly in transitioning away from coal. Everything we are doing is about helping Northern Ireland and Mid and East Antrim transition towards a de-carbonised economy by 2050,” he stated.
Knockagh Alliance Ald Noel Williams said: “This could be considered similar to other projects in adjacent council areas.
“Is this the Department effectively letting Mid and East Antrim take the flak? I believe the Department for Infrastructure is avoiding their responsibility and if anything were to go wrong, it would fall on this council. I do believe they should have dealt with this.
“Let us not take responsibility for this. I propose we actually refuse to deal with it and pass it back to the Department where I believe it properly lies.”
Mr Duffy told the meeting that the Department has reviewed the determination in the light of objections received and has stated that the original determination remains valid and it is a matter for the local council to make a decision on this application.
Ald Williams’s proposal, seconded by Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Councillor Keith Turner, was defeated by three votes in favour and five against.
Ald Paul Reid said he was content that the committee could accept the officer’s recommendation to approve and grant planning permission.
Cllr Turner commented: “I am not satisfied that the people of Carrickfergus and its surrounding environs have been consulted with adequately on this matter.”
Mr Luney replied: “In terms of the breadth and depth of our consultation in the local area, that consultation started back in July 2020 when we launched Kilroot Energy Park and we were very clear in all our publicity – press, online, media that we were looking to move away from coal and invest in gas turbine technology to facilitate more renewables.”
He reported that an extensive community consultation in surrounding areas and all consultations statutorily have taken place in which the company has “addressed all concerns that were raised”.
“So from our perspective, we have been very transparent, very clear , very engaged with our staff, contractors, our people who work in the area and we certainly believe all our consultation has been robust and right up to spec.”
Committee vice-chair, Coast Road DUP Cllr Angela Smyth seconded the proposal which was then approved by six members in favour and two against.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter