Anyone who has driven along Hennef Way over the past six months may have wondered what the strange structure rising from the ground is.
Well, by Christmas the ‘mini’ power station will be providing back-up electricity to the National Grid with the capacity to supply around 12,000 homes.
The six engines can be switched on remotely in six minutes to support the power supply for Banbury and the surrounding area if there is a shortage.
The multi-million pound project has been built on the former wasteland in double- quick time to meet the winter demand – all the work should be completed by February.
After that the site will be checked once a week otherwise it will be unmanned.
Development director Peter Trussler said: “The really big point of the project is to back up power for Banbury if it ever goes down.
“It’s basically securing the supply for Banbury and it goes into the system where the rest does, through the pylon overhead.”
Work began on the short term operating reserve (STOR) power facility in July on the three-quarters-of-an-acre site off Hennef Way.
To connect the STOR to the gas supply and National Grid, Welsh Power Group, who are behind the project, had to install cables three metres under the River Cherwell, across Spiceball Park and under the Oxford Canal.
Mr Trussler said this was expensive but favourable as it does not leave much of a ‘scar’ on the earth and causes less disruption than going along Hennef Way.
Back on site, the overgrowth was stripped and the ground was levelled out before Centrica Business Solutions could start their work.
The engines are from German manufacturers MTU, but most of the building work was done at its base in Manchester before being loaded onto trucks and delivered to Banbury. The team worked lots of early mornings, late evenings and weekends to hit their target.
Centrica’s site manager Mark Marvill said: “It’s been hard work due to the fast pace of the programme because normally we do this job in 12 to 14 months and we’ve done it in about four-and-a-half months.
“So it’s been testing but very rewarding to hit the targets we’ve been given.”
The huge V16 engines are not too dissimilar to those found in cars in principle and produce a lot of noise and heat when they are on, but the containers make them quiet to the outside world.
While a sound-proof fence separates the plant from the railway and eventually the site will be tarmacked and landscaped before Centrica leaves.
Mr Trussler believes small power stations like this one in Banbury are the future as traditional energy sources like coal are being phased out while renewables such as wind and solar are not as reliable and require much more space.
“Banbury is going to experience further growth in development in the years to come, commensurate with its status and role as a primary regional centre with an important role as a market town supporting its wider locality,” he said.
“This will require investment in infrastructure to support growth and also meet the demands arising from existing residential and commercial uses in the catchment, hence the value of having a back-up power plant within the local catchment to avoid the risk of shortages in the constant supply.”