Edmonton EfW facility: Plans to power heat network sparks legal action

The Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now (StEIN) coalition has announced its intention to legally challenge the Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department (BEIS) and Haringey Council regarding their decision to fund two new district heating networks powered by the nearby planned new incinerator in Edmonton, Enfield.

The coalition has instructed lawyers at Leigh Day to send a letter to both parties as a precursor to a lawsuit, challenging the Government’s allocation of £28 million for infrastructure that will utilise the planned incinerator and the Council’s acceptance of it, rather than a lower carbon alternative.

Channelling heat to the Tottenham Hale and Broadwater Farm Network and the Wood Green Network, the scheme would heat more than 12,000 homes and 270,000m2 of commercial space.

The coalition claims that the heat supply from the incinerator could be diminished, which would move reliance onto gas boilers. They argue that this could happen if recycling targets were met, causing a reduction in waste being sent to the incinerator, thus impacting the heat supplied to residents.

StEIN also asserts that there could be difficulties in decommissioning the Edmonton plant once dependence on it from the heat networks is established. The groups says that such a move could occur if the Government is able to meet its commitment of cutting non-recyclable waste in half by 2042, leading to a decommissioning of the plant early in its operational life.

Citing research by SourceMaterial, the coalition states that heat from burning waste is four times more carbon-intensive than heat from low-carbon sources, such as wind and solar power. It adds that the planned infrastructure wouldn't meet guidance from the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI).

StEIN’s legal challenge

StEIN’s legal challenge will aim to prove that the UK Government’s decision to award the funds was unlawful as the incinerator heat cannot reasonably be expected to ‘deliver carbon savings’, a main aim of the Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP), through which the funding was secured.

It also wishes to prove that the Government and local council failed to consider advice from the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC), which states that increased emissions from EfW facilities are not compatible with the country’s wider net zero goals. In particular, the UK’s aim to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035.

Further, the challenge will argue that the two bodies failed to consult the CCC prior to granting and accepting the funds, as consultations. According to the coalition, this would have uncovered the ‘erroneous assumption’ that EfW counted as an ‘low-carbon’ energy source.

Sheila Risk, leading the legal challenge on behalf of the StEIN coalition, said: “At this stage there is no longer any argument about what kinds of heat networks we should be building.”

“Official guidance is clear that we need to build heat pumps into our heat networks because they are a low-carbon alternative to burning gas. Plus, they cut local air pollution. Incinerator heat isn’t fit for purpose. It’s even worse than gas. It simply isn’t green and surely BEIS and Haringey Council is well aware of that.”

She continues: “It makes no sense for us taxpayers to pay out hundreds of millions for heat infrastructure when developers could just be told to follow the cost-effective solutions advised by build professionals.”

Carina Millstone, founder of the StEIN coalition, said: “The Government talks about improving energy security and combating climate change but then turns around and decides to fund a scheme reliant on a toxic, carbon-intensive, exorbitantly priced incinerator that London doesn’t even need.”

The Edmonton EfW facility

With a contract first signed by the NLWA and Spanish Infrastructure Company ACCIONA in January 2022, the EfW facility aims to create electricity from burning waste for up to 127,000 comes, and heat and hot water for up to 50,000 homes.

The project forms part of the North London Heat and Power Project (NLHPP), with a total investment of £1.2 billion, which houses a number of recycling and waste facilities.

XR Zero Waste began ongoing criticism of the plant with a statement in April. Criticising the prospective use of finance from the UK Municipal Bonds Agency (UK MBA) to support the development, the group questioned its suitability for a ‘Green Bond’, designed for low-carbon projects.

This was soon joined by wider condemnation from the StEIn coalition, which two months later wrote to Michael Gove, then the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, expressing concern for the facility and accusing the NLWA of ‘reckless misinformation’ in its campaigns. 

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