Save Minster Marshes urge councillors to consider impact of combined energy developments at Richborough

A retrospective planning application has been lodged for adjustments at the Richborough Energy Park battery facility (Photo Pacific Green)

Save Minster Marshes group is urging Thanet councillors to consider the ‘cumulative impact’ of energy developments at Richborough as the latest application for a battery storage plant is due to be discussed.

The retrospective application is for  a battery storage project developed by Pacific Green, and owned by the Sosteneo Energy Transition Fund, which went live last year but has some alterations to the original approved planning scheme.

The battery storage facility consists of 201 shipping container sized blocks, each housing the batteries with associated equipment which store electricity when there is a surplus in the network. Power is distributed back to the national grid through a connection with the existing National Grid owned Richborough 400kV substation.

Originally permission was granted in February and April 2021 for phases one and two with phase three getting the green light in 2022.

Richborough Energy Park Photo Pacific Green

The retrospective application now lodged with the council is for a number of changes to the original scheme with additional structures within the compound including an mV control building and installation of a 74,460 litre water tank to assist emergency services in the event of a fire.

A cover letter on behalf of Pacific Green says: “The sole purpose of this planning submission is to confirm the applicant’s desire to gain planning consent for the various changes, alterations and revisions to the as built layout that have occurred since it became operational in July 2023.

“The main changes from the approved layout that gained consent in 2021, is the position of the battery units and the PCS/transformer units. Originally the transformer and inverter units were placed at either end of the battery storage containers.

“Now owing to constructional and technical engineering requirements the PCS units have been placed between the battery storage units. This provides for a more rationalised and improved site layout.”

National Grid wants to build a converter station on these wetlands at Minster Photo Nik Mitchell

But Save Minster Marshes campaigners say when the application is discussed councillors should look not just at the battery storage facility but consider the impact it has alongside other developments in the area which include a large solar field, sewage works, NEMO energy building and the proposed National Grid SeaLink.

The energy developments are next door to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSI), a breeding location of endangered birds such as the nightingale and an important migratory stop off for cuckoos and many other birds.

Developments also run alongside the River Stour, which is home to European Beavers and endangered European Eels.

European beaver feeding on willow. Credit Terry Whittaker

The nearby National Grid SeaLink project would result in an electricity converter station 26 metres high and covering 60,000 square metres (9 hectares or 22 football pitches) on Minster Marshes with the cable coming onshore through the Pegwell Bay Nature Reserve.

‘Confusing’

Spokesperson for Save Minster Marshes, Peter Lorenzo said: “The applications are complex and technical and difficult for non-engineers to understand. This has been made worse by the piecemeal addition and removal of documents and approvals for them on the TDC Planning Portal.

“From what we can see the site was sold to new owners, Pacific Green, halfway through the process. They had bigger ideas for the site and so the muddled application process commenced. The initial application was for 49.9Mw of power and 23 batteries. It then shot up to 249Mw. We are advised by TDC that the latest application is for 99.9Mw.

“But, we can see planning permission for the “Extension of electricity battery storage facility to provide additional 249mw capacity” was approved in December.

“On the ground, we can see the land has been cleared to accommodate that even though this most recent application is for 99.9Mw. It is all very confusing.

“Until we started pressing TDC for information we understand that no one had visited the site to see what was happening on the ground and whether promised mitigation for pollution, fire risk and environmental damage had been put in place.”

SMM campaign group is requesting the current battery storage amendment plans are halted until previously promised environmental mitigation and enhancement is in place for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 phases.

Fire safety

Campaigners also say the risk of fire and pollution from the battery plant is not to be dismissed lightly. A database of battery storage fire and explosion incidents around the world has been created to monitor them. It shows that since 2011 there have been 81 serious incidents around the world.

Save Minster Marshes members say they are worried that water cannot be used to extinguish fires in lithium batteries and instead  the unit has to be cooled until it burns itself out but this will release gas and polluted water into the environment.

They say water run-off and pollution from any fire event would have an immediate impact on the surrounding SSSI and ground water into the River Stour and out to the National Nature Reserve and RAMSAR site at Pegwell Bay.

A fire safety assessment submitted with the Pacific Green application says the park uses LFP lithium-ion battery technology which demonstrates lower self-heating, high cycle life, and increased thermal safety (higher temperature threshold for thermal runaway, and lower peak temperature, compared to other li-ion chemistries).Potential gas fires would be extinguished using a product called Novec 1230.

A Fire Safety Plan and Emergency Response Plan was reviewed with Kent Fire & Rescue Service and was agreed as acceptable with the addition of an on-site fire fighting water supply; a 250,000L fire water tank with suction coupling; signage with clear indication of battery and PCS containers and  ‘lithium battery installed’ signed to battery containers.

Nature enthusiast Nik Mitchell with a piece of dormouse tubing that was being used for a survey near Richborough

Thanet nature enthusiast Nik Mitchell has been taking drone footage of the site and has visited the SSSI to assess environmental damage.

You can watch his video here https://youtu.be/FkRwZp4BVTc?si=DeudAQrF0A0EIGZh

He said: “This is utter, utter madness. Yes, we need green energy. But not just at any cost. We need to do this right, not just make the whole situation worse.

“The run-off is already being ignored and  damage  done to the trees along the edge of the site and TDC seems to be doing nothing to ensure Biodiversity Net Gain.”

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), working with SMM, has raised a query with Thanet council about the decision that an Environmental Impact Assessment for this development was not required.

Natural England (NE) and the Internal Drainage Board have also raised concerns and are requesting an on-site meeting with the developer’s planning consultant and Thanet council.

Photo Nik Mitchell

Separately, Save Minster Marshes has started a Crowd Justice fundraising campaign and is working with the Environmental Law Foundation to fund a legal challenge to National Grid’s consultation process for the convertor station.

Peter said: “It is worrying that this second fighting front has opened. This is cumulative impact on the ground.”

If you would like to know more about the Save Minster Marshes campaign you can find them on Facebook and on http://www.MinsterMarshes.com

To contribute to the crowdfunding campaign for the legal challenge go to: Please help us to Save Minster Marshes and its threatened wildlife (crowdjustice.com)

Pacific Green say Richborough Energy Park’s 100MW/100MWh battery will boost the capacity and flexibility of the network, helping balance the system by soaking up surplus clean electricity and discharging it back when the grid needs it.

They say the battery will also provide grid stability services, for example helping to manage voltage and frequency imbalances as renewable generation dips up and down.

Richborough substation (Photo National Grid)

When the facility went live last year Stuart Jones, Portfolio Director for the Customer Connection South Region at National Grid Electricity Transmission, said: “Battery storage has a crucial role to play in delivering a net zero energy system in Britain, so connecting projects like Pacific Green’s at Richborough Energy Park to our transmission network marks key progress on our country’s clean energy journey.”

Scott Poulter, Chairman and CEO of Pacific Green, added: “Having taken control of the site in 2021, I’m proud at the speed and efficiency with which my team has steered the project to financial close in summer 2022, first energisation a year later, (then)full energisation and now into commercial operation.”

The Richborough site occupies land where the coal power station generated electricity from the early 60s through to 1996, and stood until its demolition, including that of the cooling towers, in 2012.

The battery facility application can be seen on Thanet council’s planning portal, reference F/TH/24/0034

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11 Comments

  1. People want green energy and to make that happen there is a balance to be struck, most of us want to have all the mod cons we have grown accustomed to, and even having drones with digital cameras, to achieve this some environmental sacrifices need to be made. The current proposal ticks lots of the right boxes, tying into existing infrastructure etc. Hopefully it will go ahead without too much time being wasted, another small step on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

    • What people? Most would prefer cheaper and more reliable power, regardless of whether or not it involves non-“green” energy.

  2. Let’s bite the bullet.

    A kilometre away there is a 700 acre brownfield site, doing nothing at all.
    There are few, if any, environmental concerns.
    The high voltage interconnecter cable could be run in a shallow tunnel a bit further up the hill, with virtually no impact on the SSSI and wetlands.

    Why are these crucial bits of infrastructure owned by private enterprise? How does that ensure security of our energy supplies?

  3. It’s clear that, when considered in its entirety, National Grid’s plans are a massive problem.
    Damage to ecosystems and biodiversity are one. Disrupting access to the areas for quiet contemplation by humans is another, consider how we are advised to maintain good mental health.
    All this is bad enough but the principal safety risk around fire and toxic chemical plumes over populated areas is far worse.
    The article cites how fire safety has been considered now but what is described is worrying. The fire suppression system quoted, Novic 1230, is made by 3M. But the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA announced that 3M are phasing this product out, in or before 2025!
    Looking at a Novic 1230 supplier it seems the product is approved for Class A and Class B fires, paper, wood and flammable liquids, not lithium batteries where the fire happens without the need for oxygen.
    Then we have the water run-off from the tank Fire Brigade are asking for. Tens of thousands of litres of water, squirted on the fire, washing toxic chemicals off into ground water, ditches and the handy River Stour.
    The Health & Safety Executive have refused to consider these battery store sites despite the COMAH regulations obviously apply to such a process.
    It seems that politics is at work, the politics that enjoys manufacturing wealth for the few despite serious threats to people and their environments.
    Being able to store energy is crucial but this plant will be used to store electricity that is sold to the highest bidder, UK or Europe. It has little to do with our “green revolution”. If this were the aim then reducing energy use would be as much a priority as storing more.
    Faversham Council refused permission for a site, TDC needs to appreciate the realities of this project and refuse planning permission. It’s the wrong system in the wrong area.

  4. Any brownfield site would be better than next to the only inland SSSI in East Kent. It is planned to be surrounded on every side with green energy infrastructure. FThere are plenty of brownfield sites to choose from.

  5. they will get thier way in the end , money always talks . they will sit in wait while theres a few demos and meetings about it , then it will happen ,those important marshes will be lost forever , just like our farmland with the housing

  6. Well for a start the site falls between two districts Thanet and Dover. Bearing in mind what happened at Betteshanger country park which is equally full of rare flora and fauna. The DDC Cllrs acted like baffled donkeys and allowed a hotel and surf lagoon to be permitted.I hope those at Thanet will do better here.
    Batteries aren’t the only storage mechanisms that can be used.
    It’s marshland and batteries are on the face of it incompatible.
    It does seem mad that as you say, that a brown field site nearby is ruled out, but nature which is allowed so little space in the modern world has to be at least disturbed if not destroyed by this installation.

  7. According to my Ordnance Survey map, the existing Energy Park is at sea level.
    When the anticipated sea level rise of about 6′ happens, the plant will be standing in water.

  8. Why are we decimating our wildlife and natural environment in East kent? The obvious place for all of this infrastructure is Manston. The largest brownfield site in Kent.

    Those that support the marshes campaign and the reopening of the cargo hub at the same time are contradicting themselves.

    The impact on our environment of a noxious giant cargo hub far outweigh this development and that of the power grid plan.

    Why isn’t there a cohesive, environmentally led, plan for east kent? Why do we have these sporadic, disjointed, impenetrable private plans that offer nothing for the community.

    We need unity. And cohesion. And evidence based decision making.

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