Select Committee on Environmental Audit Memoranda


Memorandum from Mr Adam Carr, Energy Consultant

  I am working on a pilot scheme/commercial demonstrator involving the Gasification/Pyrolosis and/or Anaerobic Digestion of MSW for the generation of electricity, utilising the "waste" heat from these processes, and landfill gas uneconomic for the purpose of electricity generation, to heat a large (20 acres +) organic commercial glasshouse facility. I consider this Cornish project to be both environmentally beneficial, sustainable, and one which should properly—and indeed legislatively—be regarded as renewably fuelled. The Committee may perhaps be interested in the views of someone actually trying to implement such a project rather than merely seeking to have influential opinions (FoE, Greenpeace et al) about such matters.

  More specifically I am referring to the impediments (or their reverse) to a project of this sort, with its concomitant environmental implications, that government departments and non-departmental public authorities might be expected to exert an influence over:

  1.  As you will know any scenario involving Energy from Waste (EfW) is driven by the inexorable schedule mandated by compliance with the Landfill Directive and associated drivers. Derogations notwithstanding the great majority of local authorities will have to make their minds up/go to tender in terms of what will happen to waste in this country over the next 20-25 years within the next three years max. Cornwall, for example, is going to tender in under a year.

  2.  The County is more than likely going to end up staring down the long barrel of a behemoth single centralised incinerator chimney for the next 25 years. This is widely acknowledged to be a less than ideal solution by both the public, who rightly or wrongly have a morbid horror of incinerators, and the local authority whose responsibility is the execution of various government waste and environmental strategies, some of which have recently inclined (Best Value etc) more towards requiring them (LAs) to consider options other than mass-burn incineration.

  3.  One reason for 2) above is a reluctance on the part of the private sector to become involved in alternatives to incineration at the moment, a state of affairs that is to some extent a product of government policy—or perhaps more accurately—an apparent inability to formulate it in good time. For example:

  4.  Until it is made clear whether and to what extent EfW will be eligible for the Renewables Obligation, the private sector will continue to regard large-scale investment in innovative waste management technologies as being too risky. It is my understanding that something may be said about this in the summer. N.B. that is almost certainly too late to influence what happens in a county like Cornwall, obliged as it is to go to tender in under a year.

5.  Uncertainties relating to the EU draft Directive on renewables are having a similar effect.

6.  A survey of local authority attitudes towards the gasification/AD of MSW conducted by me as part of a study entitled "Alternatives to Landfill" for Combined Landfill Projects Ltd made it clear that:

    —  Local authorities are unlikely to consider technologies other than incineration in the current abscence of any operational and full-scale commercial demonstrators in the UK. 4) and 5) above are inhibiting their development.

    —  There is considerable confusion as to the relative weight to be given to concepts such as Best Available Technology (BAT), Best Practical Environmental Option (BPEO), and for that matter Best Value, in terms of the how to set about evaluating different technologies. I suspect this is making the task of drawing up tender documentation etc even more difficult than it need be, and will also make the task of judging the merits of one tender as against another harder than necessary. Detailed guidance could and should be given to both local authorities and the private sector.

  7.  Clearly it would be desirable were as many of the uncertainties referred to above cleared up sooner rather than later. In my opinion the government has little chance of hitting its renewable energy target if EfW is excluded from the Obligation.

  8.  Finally it might interest the Committee to know that the project has applied to the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme for a percentage of the funding required for a detailed feasibility study. It would appear that the scheme funds quite a wide variety of projects, some of which, while obviously intrinsically worthwhile, have little to do with minimising environmental damage caused by the disposal of waste, which in my opinion, and in view of the source of the scheme's funds, they perhaps ought to more than is now the case. I have heard rumours to the effect that steps are being taken in this direction—which if true—I can only applaud.

March 2001

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