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Eon seeks partners for French biomass unit

December 11 2012, Perpignan, FR — German utility Eon is discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture with a local state-controlled partner for its Provence 4 biomass-fired power plant in France, which will be the country's largest biomass-fired power unit.


December 11, 2012
By Argus Media

The company also said that it could need to import wood feedstock for a decade to power the plant.

The 150MW Provence 4 plant at Meyreuil-Gardanne in southeast France will cost around €220mn ($284mn) to build. Work will start in the first quarter of 2013 with start-up scheduled for 2015.

The unit will be the biggest in France on completion and is part of a conversion of an existing 250MW coal, coke and oil-fired plant run by Eon at the Gardanne site. But the company has been plagued by questions over the strain that Provence 4's wood demand will place on regional forest cover. Eon said it will phase in a local supply chain in order to counter any issues over sustainability. “The progressive contracting of localised wood procurement, on long-term deals, will give enough visibility for actors in the wood chain to stage and plan needed investments,” the company said.

The unit is earmarked to consume 855,000 t/yr of feedstock in the form of wood chips, local wood, organic waste — both municipal and domestic — vineyard waste as well as forest clearance residues. This is an increase on initial assessments of around 720,000 t/yr.

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Eon also predicts that around 39pc of the wood for the unit — 335,000 t/yr — will need to be imported, although the firm said it hopes that this is a temporary measure: “The objective is to move away from imported wood volumes within 10 years and the company will seize any opportunity to speed up that process.” Eon is estimating 2025 as the date when Provence 4 will reach 100pc local procurement, with the plant having a sizeable 400km catchment range to source fuel wood.

Discussions over the feedstock chain meant that the plant — approved by French energy regulator CRE in its fourth biomass bidding round in 2011 — was only ratified by local authorities in late November.

Eon said it is willing to take on French partners in the site. After coming in for some criticism for its closure of coal-fired units at Gardanne the company said it is in preliminary discussions with French group CDC Infrastructure. CDC is a subsidiary of state-controlled investment fund Caisse des Depots. “The talks are at an early stage but the two partners hope significant advances can be made in the months to come,” Eon said.

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