RENEWABLES specialist Helius Energy has narrowed operating losses more than 10-fold in a year which saw commercial operations begin at the biomass plant it developed under a joint venture in Speyside.

Helius, whose biggest shareholder is Alastair Salvesen, scion of the Salvesen shipping dynasty, booked an operating loss of £1.3 million for the year ended September 30, down from £11.6m the year before.

Last year's loss reflected impairments of £9.9m related to delays in the development of a renewable electricity plant in Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, the rights for which Helius sold to renewables group RWE Innogy in 2008.

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Last year, Helius earned management fees of £300,000 from the Rothes plant, which it handed over to CoRDe, a consortium including Helius, a division of Netherlands-based Rabobank and the Combination of Rothes Distillers, in July.

The plant, which turns by-products from whisky distilling into energy and liquid animal feed, is operating in line with expectations and exporting around 6.8 megawatts (MW) of energy to the national grid - enough to power 9000 homes.

Distillers involved include Diageo, Pernod Ricard and BenRiach.

Helius, whose shareholders also include Angus McDonald and Stagecoach co-founder Ann Gloag, said it would continue to receive an annual income of £200,000 from the plant, which generates revenues of £1m per month, under a long-term management agreement and it would also take a share of its profits in future. No profits were earned by the plant last year as production was ramping up and because of start-up costs.

So far, the plant, which took eight years and cost £60.5m to develop, is its sole source of revenue.

Helius noted its main objective for this year was to finance and construct a 100MW biomass energy plant at Avonmouth, a dock area of Bristol port.

The company said it had been holding talks with banks with a view to securing senior project debt and with potential private equity partners for the project. It hopes to commence construction in the first half of this year.

Once completed the plant, which is eligible for support under the UK Guarantee Scheme for infrastructure projects, will generate sufficient electricity to power 200,000 homes.

Elsewhere, Helius said the consultation process for its 100MW renewable energy plant in Southampton was complete, with the firm preparing to apply for a development consent order.

Chairman John Seed said: "I am pleased with the progress we made during 2013 advancing our portfolio of biomass energy projects.

"The start of commercial operation of the CoRDe biomass power plant was an important milestone for the company and one which demonstrates our strategy of delivering projects to financial close and then managing the ongoing operation of those projects."

Shares in Helius Energy closed unchanged at 13.5p.