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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 16:09 GMT
Wood-fuelled energy plant planned
The site as it used to be
A smelter was built on the site in the 60s
A 24m wood-fuelled energy plant is closer to being built on a site on the Cromarty Firth after securing more than 5m of government funding.

Northern Irish company Balcas still needs planning permission and a permit before work can start at Invergordon.

If it goes ahead, the combined heat and power plant will be capable of heating 20,000 homes a year.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise will invest 5.5m in the plant, which has been welcomed by the first minister.

Jack McConnell said it would create local jobs and cut carbon emissions.

HIE said the biomass scheme will create 38 full-time jobs, but could rise to 307 Scotland-wide and reduce carbon emissions by 170,000 tonnes per year.

This project is bringing major new investment to the local economy and creating many jobs, while helping the environment at the same time
Jamie Stone MSP

Balcas Ltd will develop its operation on the former Alcan smelter site at the Cromarty Industrial Park.

The company's managing director Ernest Kidney said the plant will use wood fibre to produce steam to make electricity.

Heat generated during this process will in turn be used to manufacture 100,000 tonnes of wood pellets a year.

Mr Kidney said this will be enough to warm 20,000 homes and offer an alternative to fossil fuels, such as oil.

With the funding in place, Balcas must now get approval for it planning application for the plant lodged with Highland Council.

It must also get a permit to operate from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Climate change

Once those are in place construction work could start next January with the plant operational in 2008.

HIE's funding contribution was welcomed by local politicians.

Liberal Democrat Highland MSP Jamie Stone said it was an early Christmas present for the people of Ross-shire.

The site as it is now
The new plant will draw on the Highlands forest resources

He said: "This project is bringing major new investment to the local economy and creating many jobs, while helping the environment at the same time."

SNP MSP Rob Gibson said: "The future of biomass clean power will be a positive demonstration that the North of Scotland has a huge part to pay in clean fuel production for the whole."

Green MSP Eleanor Scott said: "It's a great step forward for the use of biomass industry in the north and will therefore help tackle climate change, provide much needed jobs in Easter Ross and create an economic use for hitherto low value timber."

Meanwhile, Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan said: "This is fantastic news. The Easter Ross plant will create 38 full-time jobs with many more being created in the wider area."

A separate plan is also under way to build a 30m biomass energy scheme with the potential to heat thousands of homes in Lochaber.

Tanaris Ltd has signed a deal with aluminium manufacturer Alcan to build a biomass combined heat and power station on land it owns at Fort William.

The energy company said the scheme could create 200 jobs during the construction phase and 30 permanent staff once operational.

See more details of the plan

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