22/11/2012 07:08 GMT | Updated 21/01/2013 05:12 GMT

The UK's 1st Biomethane Gas-to-Grid Plant

Today, when HRH The Prince of Wales opened the UK's first full-scale Anaerobic Digester and Biomethane-to-Grid Plant, which will provide renewable gas directly to the local community in Poundbury, it is clear that Prince Charles is a visionary.

Powering Poundbury with Potato Peelings.

Twenty-five years ago when Prince Charles met with architect/urban planner Leon Krier to realize the green, people-friendly (not car-friendly) experimental town of Poundbury, the idea was dismissed as the airy-fairy fancy of a foolish prince. Who would want to live in a "sustainable community" in Dorchester, England that promotes walking and bicycling, when today's world demands racing to and from work in an impressive-looking car? Who would be naive enough to buy a home in a community that would be "pepperpotting" social housing next to you!? And who would dream of renewable, self-generated power, in a country that relied so heavily upon coal-generated electricity?

Today, when HRH The Prince of Wales opened the UK's first full-scale Anaerobic Digester and Biomethane-to-Grid Plant, which will provide renewable gas directly to the local community in Poundbury, it is clear that Prince Charles is a visionary. England is a country rich in potatoes, so the idea of turning food waste, along with maize and grass silage, into gas is the perfect local, low-carbon solution. Anaerobic Digestion is a natural process where, in the absence of oxygen, organic material is broken down by micro-organisms to produce biogas, which is rich in methane. The AD plant will produce a net carbon saving of around 4,435 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions every year. At maximum capacity the plant will provide enough renewable gas for 56,000 new-build homes in the summer and 4,000 in the winter.

As The Prince of Wales said is his speech today, "The great thing about the whole AD process, and one of the reasons I have been so enthusiastic about it, is that it is a completely virtuous circle - so you end up with a digestate (a fertiliser) at the end of the process." Local food waste that would be littering landfills is, instead, powering the city. The Anaerobic Digester at Rainbarrow Farm, Poundbury, will produce biogas using waste sourced from local farms and businesses, including Dorset Cereals and the House of Dorchester Chocolate Factory, both based in Poundbury, and Express Potatoes from Weymouth. Digestate retains all the nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) for fertilising local farmland, and acts as a good soil conditioner. Fellow Dorset farmer Howard Mason said, "We know the digestate is full of nutrients, and we're excited to learn how it improves our soils and increases the yields from land producing food."

Prince Charles' vision was achieved through the diligent work of many stakeholders, who came together over the past four years to make it real. Local farmers teamed up with the Duchy of Cornwall to begin the process, and to supply the plant with fuel. Technology was sourced from the German company Agraferm, which has built around 50 AD plants across Europe. Scotia Gas Networks is in charge of the clean-up and treatment of the raw biogas to produce biomethane, which is injected into the local network. Local businesses are donating their waste. Everyone in Poundbury is benefitting from being a part of a pioneering solution that can be rolled out nationwide, helping to reduce the U.K.'s dependency on imports, which supplied 42% of the nation's energy in the second quarter of 2012, according to the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The vision is to roll out the Poundbury Anaerobic Digester model across the land. Scotia Gas Networks Chief Executive Officer John Morea said: "Greening the gas, by connecting distributed sources of renewable gas to our network, as we are in Poundbury, is at the heart of our long-term vision of an enduring and sustainable gas network. It's a key part of our strategy, and also central to decarbonising the UK's heat supplies."

Enduring communities are not built overnight. I have visited Poundbury myself (in May). I have walked through the parks and walled gardens, shaken hands with the local wealth manager as he biked to his office and gaped at the manicured landscaping of proud homeowners. The social housing, which is indeed scattered amidst gorgeous homes, is designed to be indistinguishable, and it is clear to see that the inhabitants take pride in those homes and their community at large. For anyone interested in walking to the local pub and grocery store, whether you are retired, raising a family or just happy to be in a relaxed environment after a challenging day at work, Poundbury is as close to utopia as the modern world gets.

Poundbury is expected to be fully completed by 2025, when it will house approximately 5,000 people and provide 2,000 jobs in the factories, offices and general facilities across the site. It is already home to 2,000 people and 140 businesses, as well as providing employment for some 1,600 people.

In short, get in while you can.

Check out the slide show below for some pictures of The Prince of Wales at the AD Opening and of Poundbury.