UK power firm pays high price for Orimulsion

Out-of-court settlement by PowerGen marks set-back for controversial high sulphur fuel

A major UK electricity generator has made one of the largest environmental damages payments ever in Britain to a farmer who claimed that emissions from a PowerGen power station damaged his crops, according to the latest issue of The ENDS Report. The officially undisclosed payment was £3m-4m (Ecu4.3m-5.8m), ENDS' monthly journal reveals.

The claim began after PowerGen started to burn Orimulsion - a cheap, bitumen-based Venezuelan fuel with a high sulphur content - at its ageing 360MW Richborough station in Kent in 1990. The following year, a local farmer noticed black spots, scorch marks and other damage on vegetable crops. Similar damage occurred in every year until 1996, when the power station was closed, the farmer reported.

Backed by the land's owner, a large insurance company, he claimed for damages. Though PowerGen contested the claim, the presiding judge drafted a judgement highly critical of PowerGen and its operation of the plant, The ENDS Report reveals.

However, the judgement was never released. On 10 September, just hours before the ruling was to be presented, PowerGen and the farmer reached an out-of-court settlement. No details have been officially released, but The ENDS Report reveals that PowerGen agreed to pay £3-4m (Ecu4.3-5.8m) to the plaintiffs. This is one of the largest such payouts ever made in the UK, though smaller than a reported £5m payment made by PowerGen in 1991 after acid smuts from the same power station damaged hundreds of imported cars parked nearby.

The case looks to have put an end to long-running efforts to introduce Orimulsion to the UK. The day after the settlement, PowerGen's rival National Power dropped plans to spend £450 million converting its 2,000MW Pembroke plant in south Wales to burn the fuel.

Environmental groups - who have dubbed Orimulsion as "the filthiest fuel" - had claimed that emissions of fine acidic dust from the plant would cause adverse health effects. The Environment Agency of England and Wales had expressed concern over the potential impact of any spillage of Orimulsion on the ecologically sensitive Pembrokeshire coast.

Orimulsion is in use elsewhere in Europe, at SK Power's 700MW Asnaes plant in Denmark and ENEL's power station at Brindisi in southern Italy. Test burns of a mixture of coal and Orimulsion at a German plant have also been carried out. Bitor Europe, which imports Orimulsion to Europe from Venezuela, points out that these plants are fitted with desulphurisation equipment, unlike the Richborough station in the UK.

Follow Up:
PowerGen, tel: +44 171 826 2826; Bitor Europe, tel: +44 181 232 6000. References: "PowerGen forks out for Orimulsion crop damage," The ENDS Report 272, September 1997.

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