Understanding opposition to new energy from waste plants – UNTHA UK digs deeper
Plans to build a new energy from waste plant in Allerton, only a matter of miles from UNTHA UK’s headquarters, reached a significant milestone earlier this year. Chris Oldfield explores…
“In October 2012 North Yorkshire County Council granted permission for the facility to be commissioned, subject to Government consultation. But on 30 January 2013, Secretary of State for Communities and the Local Government Eric Pickles decided not to call the application in. This meant the council could finalise the £1.4 billion 25-year contract with waste services company AmeyCespa.
But the roller coaster journey of this proposed plant then made a shocking U turn when Defra withdrew funding. It has been reported that this decision was made on the basis that England is likely to meet landfill diversion targets without the progress of such plants. The pressure is therefore on for our targets to be achieved otherwise this shock move could appear quite foolish. Defra’s decision would also suggest that only the issue of waste management has been considered, and not energy generation, the substitution of fossil fuels, job creation or the strengthening of the local economy.
Expected to be operational from mid 2015, this waste treatment facility had been the centre of much debate in the region. So what has the response been to this newest curveball?
The energy from waste plant was set to provide a great way for North Yorkshire’s waste to be utilised as a resource that could generate renewable electricity. This plant, and the wider waste park, would have generated numerous jobs for the community, saved local people millions of pounds in tax, heightened the region’s recycling rates and provided an economic boost for local suppliers.
Yet some residents always reacted adversely to the proposals. Admittedly the opponents were a minority of individuals who questioned the scheme’s size and cost, at the same time as claiming the plant would devalue their homes and cause traffic congestion. Others were vocal in their opinions regarding the environmental credentials of an incinerator in their ‘back yard’.
Of course the concerns were understandable and it was great that the council and AmeyCespa involved the community in the plans as they unfolded. They also placed a detailed FAQ section on the plant’s website, which has continued to provide the opportunity for residents to learn more about the proposals.
Regardless of the level of education surrounding such a scheme, opposition will perhaps always exist. But in assessing the value of a waste to energy plant a series of questions should perhaps be asked:
- Would the plant be ideally situated?
- Will it contain the right technology?
- Do we actually need it?
It certainly seemed that, on the face of it, the answer to each question was yes.
The energy from waste plant was set to comprise sophisticated, state-of-the-art technologies that would scientifically sort and reclaim recyclable materials, treat food waste to produce electricity via anaerobic digestion, and create enough energy from leftover household waste to power 40,000 homes. It would also operate in a controlled environment whereby any emissions would be monitored – all burn processes are regulated by the Incinerator Directive and policed by the Environment Agency.
What many people will have failed to acknowledge however, is that the sulphur and nitrous oxide emissions for Allerton Park would have been only 3% of the allowable limit as set out in this directive. In stark contrast, the nearby A1 road network would record approximately 86% of this limit, and in some small town centres the emissions level often exceeds the allowable limit entirely. At a similar plant in London, it would reportedly take 125 years in operation to reach the same emission levels of dioxin as those produced by the Millenium Fireworks in only twenty minutes. It could be argued that any opposition to the plant on health grounds is simply unfathomable.
The site is currently home to a landfill, so it is not as though the team was considering the destruction of a picturesque landscape by commissioning this plant build. Instead they appeared committed to the UK’s waste and energy agenda – their goal was to better harness the resource potential of North Yorkshire’s ‘rubbish’ which at present doesn’t really have anywhere else to go in the surrounding area.
The withdrawal of funding does not mean that the plant build will not go ahead indefinitely, but with it becoming increasingly difficult to afford, the local authority must now decide how viable the scheme is.
We wait and see…”