As Christmas 2014 approached, anti-Santa struck twice.
Former secretary of state Eric Pickles missed the deadline for a decision on the Urbasser Balfour Beatty (UBB) appeal against a planning refusal at Javelin Park by Gloucestershire County Council, and Waste-2-Tricity had its planning permission granted by Nottinghamshire County Council called in. Even Viridor was challenged for the lack of efficiency of its energy-from-waste (EfW) plant in Cardiff. Was Father Christmas a myth?
He came eventually. In January 2015 it was announced that the Javelin Park refusal had been overturned, followed by the same of the refusal by the anti-Santa himself of Veolia’s Hertfordshire project. But it was too late as the project had been abandoned. MVV soldiered on and started commissioning its combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Plymouth.
By February, things were beginning to look up. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) announced the results of the first allocation round of its Contracts for Difference for renewable energy, with three gasification and two EfW-with-CHP projects awarded contracts, while Public Health England (PHE) promised to issue its long-awaited study on health impacts of incineration.
Meanwhile, anti-Santa was in trouble again when scandal broke that he had been advised to rule in favour of the beleaguered Cory/ Wheelabrator EfW planning permission in Norfolk – also now abandoned.
In March, the Royal Courts of Justice announced that it had refused a challenge against the Viridor plant in south London. Work started at Allington Park, North Yorkshire, and the Green Investment Bank (GIB) said it was making £60m available at Hoddesden, Hertfordshire, secured on commercial and industrial waste from the private sector.
Life seemed to be not so bad for the EfW sector, and keeping northern Europe in power and heat became even more popular, with more than 256,000 tonnes of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) exported from England and Wales during the month.
By April, Eunomia declared there was no more waste to burn. As if to prove them wrong, the GIB and Zouk Capital announced a second plant secured on the abundance of commercial and industrial waste available in Scotland. The industry had broken a barrier with much-heralded merchant plants starting to be realised.
May was election month and, following a result that took many by surprise, Rory Stewart replaced Dan Rogerson as resources minister. Anti-Santa was given a knighthood and moved on.
With the threat of call-in diminished, Wheelabrator gained planning approval at Park Adfer and Ferrybridge began its hot commissioning. The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) announced plans for the replacement of Edmonton, and Hope Works converted its cement kilns to burn solid recovered fuel. SRF. Air Products, building the “world’s largest gasification plant” optimistically announced that it was near completion.
By mid-summer, construction began at Hirwaun, the first minister for Wales opened Trident Park, Viridor started construction in south London, Ardley was opened and Carbon8 started construction of its ash processing plant in Avonmouth.
In July, Viridor started construction on Dunbar and Suez opened its plant in Suffolk. PHE concluded that incinerators contributed little to particle emissions in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile the RDF export market started to stutter, with Malmö in Sweden requiring all shipments to be containerised, and the Environment Agency issuing a report declaring that RDF export could become as expensive as landfill. As the temperature rose, some northern Europe off-takers refused RDF deliveries due to lack of demand for heat and so the storage of RDF became an issue.
In August, Ferrybridge FM1 went fully operational, and in September UBB started the hunt for contractors to build Javelin Park. Meanwhile, Gent Fairhead sought a planning variation in Essex, and the NLWA approved its plans for the Edmonton replacement. FCC Environment received permission from Midlothian Council, and Biffa issued a report stating there was no overcapacity of EfW. Meanwhile RDF exports levelled off for the first time in several years.
As autumn approached, Multifuel Energy received planning approval from DECC for its second facility at Ferrybridge, and in November, BH EnergyGap received a planning variation to its plant in Walsall.
Further north, however, the “world’s largest gasification plant” had not been completed and Air Products further announced that construction of Tees Valley 2 was to be suspended.
But it was that time of year again, and Santa delivered when the GIB committed £47m to EfW in Northern Ireland. This is a tough business, but something always comes along.
Keith Riley is proprietor of Vismundi and partner in BH EnergyGap