St Philip’s Marsh – from Diesel to sustainable energy hub

The past 2 weeks have seen completions and starts on the way to more sustainable power, and an object lesson in the interplay between planning and accidents.

At the end of 2015, a group was formed to fight the proposal for a Diesel Powered Electricity Generator Scheme on St Philip’s Marsh [a Peaker Plant]. Close to a Nursery School, and in the Avon Valley as it passes through Bristol. Two versions of the scheme, and a Planning Appeal later we won in 2017. Accidents often influenced planning and strategies. The first Accident is a lesson that’s been [un]learned many times. Never name a group in the pub after a long evening meeting – if you do you’ll probably get stuck with a name like RADE [Residents Against Dirty Energy]. The second accident was a young girl running up to me with a bunch of flowers – 7-year-old Bilan wanted me to know that she and her Dad thought we were Hero’s for fighting for clean air – her mum had chronic Asthma. What she didn’t know was we were on the point of giving up, but a bunch of flowers and a big hug from a little Somali Girl in the middle of Aldi made that impossible. We changed tactics and fought on.

By 2017 RADE had worked with Aura Power developing community support for their Battery Storage scheme in Bristol and was developing a network of Particulate Sensors as part of the International Luftdaten project. We’d taken the decision that as everyone seemed focused on traffic and air pollution, we’d focus on the ‘forgotten’ static sources including wood-burning.

Then in 2019, another company tried to put a Gas Peaker Plant even closer [70m] to the same Nursery School. Another fight, planning permission refused, and back to Particulates. We were in the middle of reviewing our strategy when along came Covid-19. Too soon to say what the long-term impact of this unplanned event will be but we’ve already seen NOx and PM2.5 levels go in different directions, so maybe the two will no longer be treated as the same when it comes to policies and ways to reduce Air Pollution.

Meanwhile, a Battery Storage scheme was proposed by Aura Power for the site where the Diesel plant had been proposed on St Philip’s Marsh. It got planning consent last week. The week before Conrad Energy [proposers of the Gas Peaker plant] returned with a Battery Storage proposal. Suddenly we are looking at 3 battery schemes in the city, two on The Marsh, which could now fulfil its potential as a Sustainable Energy Hub for the city with PV on roofs, and a turbine on the River Avon.

The Aura Power Batteries on the site where Diesel Generation had been threatened closed a circle, and serendipity closed another. Bilal, now a proud young woman of 11, got in touch to say that she wants to be an engineer, having followed the story of the site that she can see from her tower block bedroom window. Sadly, not more hugs, but something tells me she’ll be a LinkedIn star in a year or two.