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Barriers to energy from waste continue to dog the UK’s industry

The incineration debate is again one of the industry’s hot topics. Not a week goes by without a local newspaper highlighting the latest “threat” presented by a waste management facility in one location or another.

In Hertfordshire, for example, MPs, millionaires, celebrities and local residents oppose a proposed energy-from-waste (EfW) plant in Hatfield. With the county council in disagreement with Whitehall, Veolia Environmental Services faces a long and steep battle to get the required planning permission.

About to go to a judicial review, meanwhile, is the Cory- proposed facility at King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Here, the borough council has applied to challenge ministers about plans to build a £500m incinerator. There have also been strong local campaigns against proposed EfW facilities in Oxfordshire, South Wales and Cornwall - all of which have resulted in delays and rising project costs.

This propensity towards local concerns and intense activism leads to projects being delayed. According to the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management Great Waste Survey 2011, public attitudes to the development of new facilities were cited by 65% of waste professionals as one of the reasons for the current shortfall in waste treatment infrastructure in the UK.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the national planning system, and localism now at the heart of existing Government policy, this interface will continue to be a major barrier for some time to come. Given the need for new waste infrastructure to meet UK and EU targets for landfill diversion and renewable energy production, this situation is far from ideal.

So what are the other barriers to the development of new waste infrastructure and how can they be overcome? Major challenges include securing the right feedstock; planning and regulatory processes; lack of financing and investment; and confidence in technologies.

What really needs to be assessed and fully understood is the criticality of any identified barrier in influencing the overall plan. The inter-relationships of these barriers and the time when they might have an effect are also important.

A project timeline can be developed to identify the potential problems, when they might occur and what they are linked to, so that the overall importance of particular problems can be targeted for action.

Take the planning process, for example. If a waste management company decides to build a facility and applies for planning permission, the process can take up to 18 months from start to finish. And there could be any one of a number of issues that affect the speed of the process.

Coupled with the fact that it can cost up to £200,000 upfront for a major project - a lot of money when approval is not guaranteed - and small operators can be put off from pursuing a project entirely. The recent Penfold Review identified that planning was the area of the highest risk politically.

Permitting is an expensive and time-consuming technical process to go through, with its restrictions and nuances, while timescales can vary from location to location, and local planning authorities can make certain policy principles more important than others - all affecting the ultimate decision.

Some of the barriers identified to date are broad in scope. Depending on the scale of the project, the technology in question and the location of the proposal, the barriers will vary in importance and criticality. But most planned infrastructure developments will need to consider all of these potential barriers - if only to rule them out as low risk in their case.

The criticality of these issues and the underlying reasons for planning delays, funding concerns and other associated barriers, along with the development of appropriate solutions, are key questions that consultancy AEA has been addressing in partnership with the Environment Agency as part of the European Pathway to Zero Waste programme.

AEA Workshops

Until 5 July, AEA is facilitating a series of workshops at a number of waste management and resource recovery facilities across London and the South East region – see www.MRW.co.uk/AEAworkshops.

Participants will have a chance to reflect on the desk based research to date and influence the final reports for WRAP, the Environment Agency and Central Government. Input is needed from a wide coverage of stakeholders with an interest in waste infrastructure development and delivery, from planners and funders, to technology companies, waste operators and regulators, to respond to the report’s findings and to help develop recommendations on possible solutions and opportunities.

For a full list of dates and to reserve a place at one of these meetings please visit http://www.aeat.com/cms/developing-waste-infrastructure/. Here, you will find an initial draft of the study report, and an Executive Summary highlighting the key debates identified to date.

Rachael Riding, Sarahjane Widdowson & Adam Read

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