NLWA to fund energy recovery facility with public borrowing
The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has announced that the funding for the construction of its new energy recovery facility (ERF) will come from direct public borrowing, a move the authority hopes will provide clarity to companies bidding for the construction of the new plant.
NLWA, which comprises seven North London boroughs (Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest) announced its plans for a new ERF to replace the existing plant at Edmonton EcoPark back in 2014, with its application for a Development Consent Order and the associated development of the North London Heat and Power Project being granted on 24 February 2017.
The plans for the facility state that it will be capable of incinerating 700,000 tonnes of non-recyclable residual waste every year and produce 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 127,000 homes, with the £500-million project estimated to save up to £900 million over 27 years. It is hoped that the facility will support NLWA’s push for greater recycling, with the authority setting a 50 per cent recycling target for 2020.
The final selection of the facility’s funding source will be made by NLWA in the near future after the organisation conducted a ‘best value consultation’ to ensure that the approach to financing the project offered the best possible value for money, with the results of the consultation used to influence the final decision.
NLWA will be seeking public funding for a ‘design and build’ contract with a construction company for the ERF project at Edmonton EcoPark. NLWA would typically make stage payments to the contractor during the construction period. Further decisions will be made by NLWA members before a procurement for construction companies to design and build the ERF is undertaken.
NLWA expects the new ERF to be operating by the end of 2025 or, at the latest, the end of 2027. Design work is already underway on other elements of the project; the Development Consent Order provides for a new ERF together with a Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) and a new Reuse and Recycling Centre (RRC), as well as EcoPark House, an office block with a visitor reception centre, which can also be used for education on waste-related matters.
Commenting on the announcement, Councillor Clyde Loakes, Chair of NLWA, said: “I’m delighted to announce that NLWA has chosen to fund this important project through direct public borrowing. In making this decision, members have balanced the need to find an option with a manageable level of risk with funding the project at the lowest anticipated cost. When the construction contract is let, the Authority will manage it to deliver a good value waste to energy plant in which the people of North London can take pride. This will be a solution which is sensitive to demands on council tax payers.”
EfW should be ‘option of last resort’
Despite NLWA’s ambition that the new facility will support recycling efforts in North London, the London Assembly appears to believe differently, calling for ‘urgent change’ away from energy-from-waste (EfW) in a report released by the Assembly’s Environment Committee at the start of the year.
The report stated that the amount of waste sent to incineration in EfW facilities in London had nearly doubled in the last decade, totalling nearly two million tonnes a year, representing 53 per cent of local authority collected waste in London.
The report stated that more investment in EfW would ‘negatively affect long-term recycling rates’ in the capital – which are already lagging far behind national targets at 33 per cent – as long-term waste disposal contracts can ‘undermine the financial viability for the local authority of reducing waste, or sending it to other destinations such as recycling’.
Concerns also exist regarding the composition of the waste being sent to incinerators. Despite the fact that incinerators are only supposed to take non-recyclable waste, the latest waste composition analyses show that up to half of the waste in the residual stream is recyclable, further undermining efforts to increasing recycling rates.
With Mayor of London Sadiq Khan setting a 65 per cent recycling target and a target to reduce London’s food waste by 50 per cent by 2030, the Assembly’s report calls for investment in council recycling services and a wider collection of food waste destined for the capital’s ‘under-utilised’ anaerobic digestion facilities rather than its incinerators.
At the time of the report’s publication, Leonie Cooper AM, Chair of the Environment Committee, said: “We have got to get a grip on the amount of waste being sent to incineration. Burning recyclable and organic materials is wasteful and potentially harmful and as London is expected to grow, we urgently need to reduce the amount being sent for incineration and to separate out useful materials. Once these materials are burnt, they are lost forever and can’t be used within a circular economy.
“Incineration can no longer be relied upon to manage our waste effectively. Energy-from-waste does have its benefits in generating heat and power, but, along with exporting waste elsewhere and sending waste to landfill, this should really be an option of last resort.”
‘Important role’ in circular economy
However, the waste management industry was keen to rebut these claims and defend the use of EfW as part of the capital’s suite of waste management solutions, denying that it stands in the way of a transition to a circular economy.
The industry maintains that London, and the rest of the UK, is heading for a capacity gap in residual waste treatment, and that new EfW facilities such as the one at Edmonton EcoPark are necessary to deal with increasing levels of residual waste. Waste firm Cory, which operates the 750,000-tonne capacity Riverside EfW facility in East London, has predicted the UK’s capacity gap will reach 1.7 million tonnes by 2030.
In response to the London Assembly’s report, Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), a trade association representing the UK’s waste management industry, stated: “EfW has an important role to play as we transition to a circular economy. The increase of the amount of London’s waste sent to EfW in the last decade is a success story. This is the waste left over after recycling which would otherwise be sent to landfill. Instead it has been put to a further use to generate low-carbon electricity and heat for homes and businesses in the capital, thereby upholding the principles of the circular economy.
“It is incredibly disappointing that the London Assembly Environment Committee has overlooked this. We are perplexed how the Committee sees EfW as a hindrance to recycling. And we are baffled how the report so readily highlights the treatment capacity gap in London while simultaneously criticising EfW operators and offering nothing in the way of solutions.”