Incinerator plan to save millions in EU fines hangs in the balance

In 2009 the Sentinel first listened to North West Regional Waste Management Group (NWRWMG) representatives make the case for a £500m energy recovery facility to deal with residual municipal waste across the seven northernmost counties here.

Derry City Council, local private sector interests and central Government were invited to indicate sites suitable for such a facility to serve seven NWRWMG councils from Ballymoney to Strabane. At the time there was a danger that if EU targets on landfill disposal weren’t met by 2013 fines of up to £500k per day could ensue. New targets loom for 2019/2020.

A still from a promotional film produced by the NWRWMG that acknowledges gasification is a form of incineration.

A still from a promotional film produced by the NWRWMG that acknowledges gasification is a form of incineration.

NWRWMG launched a competitive tender process in earnest to try and get building work underway by 2012. It hoped a facility employing 40 people would become operational this year.Parallel to this process Londonderry waste firm Brickkiln was progressing its own independent energy recovery facility in Maydown, which it said, at the time, would lead to 250 construction jobs and a minimum 100 skilled ‘green collar’ jobs once completed.

Brickkiln said in April 2009 its plans would involve a £100m investment in a gasification plant on Electra Road.

Fast forward to December 2012 and after a multi-stage public procurement exercise, NWRWMG appointed Brickkiln, Sisk and Shanks as its preferred bidder to deliver its £500m Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) and gasification plant. NWRWMG said it would be able to treat 140k tonnes of waste per year using MBT and 80k tonnes of waste per year using gasification.

Whilst all this was going on an anti-incineration campaign was burning in the background. In 2011 the Enagh Youth Forum told local planners and politicians to site the proposed new plant at Fort George or Ebrington. And more recently a group called Zero Waste North West led opposition to the plans. Last year two British anti-incineration activists addressed protest meetings in the city.

There has been a reluctance on the part of proponents of the plant to acknowledge that it involves incineration. That’s despite the European Commission saying that’s what it is.

In June 2013 Environment Minister Alex Attwood said an ash pit would be needed to collect residual waste: the word incinerate literally means ‘reduce to ashes.’

By August 2013 he was telling green MLA Steven Agnew: “Any facility involving the thermal treatment of wastes is defined as an ‘incineration plant’ for the purposes of the EU Waste Incineration Directive; that is, to ensure that emissions from all such facilities are regulated to the same high standards.”

Now that the waste plant hangs in the balance the powers that be are left with the problem of avoiding huge EU fines that will be imposed if they don’t meet landfill targets. NWRWMG says measures are in place to ensure waste obligations are met in the short term. Last week’s recommendation was designed to allow the council plan for the future.