Alternatives to a controversial incinerator contract at St Dennis, Cornwall, could save the council £320 million, according to a consultants’ report.
The report, commissioned by campaigners opposing plans for SITA’s Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre (CERC), says that the 30-year PFI contract is poor value for money, and that the cost of pulling out is less than the savings that could be made with alternative waste management strategies.
Overall costs could also be reduced by an average of £10m per year by diverting recyclable materials out of the PFI contract and onto the open market, it concludes.
The report, carried out by Eunomia Research, and Consulting for the Cornwall Waste Forum, which opposes the incinerator, states: “In the context of such significant savings, the risks and costs that the council has identified as likely to be incurred in leaving the contract, though unpalatable, are relatively small compared with the potential savings of over £320m in net present value terms over the period through to 2036/37.”
The report says that the Cornwall PFI contract is outdated and “no longer reflects the policy, legislative and technology context of waste management”. The contract fails to identify food waste as a separate stream, it said.
Eunomia also concluded that the forum’s alternative plan, which includes mechanical biological treatment, while not “optimal”, demonstrated the savings available from other strategies.
Campaigners have previously opposed the contract, which dates back to 2006, because of fears about the impact on health and the environment. SITA UK said that residents could be reassured that the Environment Agency has granted an environmental permit to SITA UK for its Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre.
Last week the council gave the green light to a draft revised project plan for the energy centre, despite objectors’ claims that a change of ownership of a major customer could scupper the project.
Objectors have been given hope by china clay firm Imerys Minerals’ takeover two weeks ago of its industry neighbour Goonvean, which was to have bought surplus heat from SITA.
Leading objector Elizabeth Hawken claimed it was “highly likely” that Imerys would decline to buy the heat, a situation she said would see SITA unable to acquire either PFI credits or renewable obligation certificates, which in turn could invalidate its Environment Agency permit.
Imerys Minerals said it could not comment yet on future plans, although the council said the original contract between SITA and Goonvean remained in place.
It also said that the provision of PFI credits for the CERC was not conditional on providing heat to industry, and nor did the Environment Agency demand this.
The council said that the issue of alternative technologies had been tested thoroughly during the public inquiry process, and that the environmental permit application also included a Best Available Techniques (BAT) assessment and concluded that moving grate incineration technology energy from waste was BAT.
A statement said: “Adopting a different approach would require the council to change its existing waste policy and develop a new policy. Not only would this mean carrying out further public consultation, the authority would also need to find alternative sites, procure a new contractor, enter into a new contract and obtain planning permissions.”
It added: “Cornwall is rapidly running out of landfill space and to effectively start the process again is not a viable option.”