Merseyside in ‘urgent’ interim contract after delays to Wilton incinerator

The Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority (MRWA) has had to seek urgent, unprocured interim waste disposal arrangements after technical issues prevented the full operation of its £1.18-billion contract, according to a progress report published last week (3 February).

Merseyside in ‘urgent’ interim contract after delays to Wilton incinerator
The MRWA contract includes the waste from Liverpool, as well as four other Merseyside councils
In December 2013, the authority signed a resource recovery contract (RRC), covering Merseyside and Halton’s waste management transfer and treatment, with Merseyside Energy Recovery Ltd (MERL), a consortium including waste firm SUEZ, Sembcorp UK and investment firm I-Environment.

The 30-year contract, worth a reported £1.18 billion, included the construction of an energy-from-waste (EfW) incinerator, comprising a combined heat and power (CHP) plant at the Wilton International site in Teesside.

The MRWA manages the municipal waste collected by the district councils of Merseyside – Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, Wirral and St Helens – serving a population of around 1.4 million residents.

Wilton facility

When finished, the £250-million purpose-built Wilton 11 incinerator will process over 430,000 tonnes of residual waste collected from the MRWA as well as Halton Borough Council. The energy derived from this waste is expected to generate electricity for the equivalent of 63,000 homes.

Wilton was meant to enter full operation at the beginning of October 2016, but ‘for a variety of technical and contractual reasons’, MERL did not reach full service by that point and has still not done so.

In response to this, the MRWA granted approval to procure interim waste disposal, however an ‘urgent situation’ arose at the end of November when MERL was forced to close down the Wilton facility for two weeks to carry out ‘urgent repairs’ for problems that arose during the final stages of commissioning.

Merseyside in ‘urgent’ interim contract after delays to Wilton incinerator
The Wilton 11 facility's design
This meant that MERL would be unable to accept any waste, a situation made more problematic by the closure of FCC’s Arpley landfill. FCC has offered its Gowy landfill site as an alternative, but the site is limited in the daily tonnage it can accept.

Rail transfer station also behind schedule

As well as the Wilton facility, the contract also involved the construction of the Kirkby Rail Transfer Loading Station to tranport waste from across the country by rail to Wilton from Merseyside.

This was also supposed to be completed by October, but the station is still under control of the construction subcontractor and has not been formally completed due to ‘a number of technical challenges’, notably, as the report states ‘with the operation of waste compactors, which are currently not able to operate to design capacity’. This is further restricting the authority’s ability to transfer waste to the Wilton facility.

The report notes: ‘The very serious risk existed that without such disposal arrangements in place, MRWA may have been unable to find disposal outlets for the districts and HWRC collected residual waste.’ An agreement was ‘swiftly’ negotiated with Suez whereby MRWA would have access to the emergency disposal facilities for disposal of residual municipal waste under a direct contract arrangement between MRWA and SUEZ.

The agreement with SUEZ is for disposal capacity and gate fee rates for a range of residual waste disposal outlets with third-party operators across the north-west. The agreement, originally time-limited to 31 January, will be extended in light of the anticipated further period of commissioning whilst MERL and SUEZ address the technical and operational issues at the Kirkby RTLS facility.

The MWDA’s progress report can be read on the partnership’s website.

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