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Thwarted by uncertainty

When new colleagues arrive at MRW Towers, they invariably meet editorial staff to chat about the big issues affecting our sector. A constant theme is the tough investment climate and this week the saga of the Norfolk energy from waste plant provides plenty of evidence of that.

How can any industry bloom when overshadowed by political inaction, uncertainty over infrastructure needs and mixed messaging about renewable energy sources?

Within days of a thumbs up from the Green Investment Bank (the organisation charged with filling funding gaps that conventional investors won’t meet), the county council announced it could no longer wait for communities secretary Eric Pickles to decide on planning permission for the Norfolk scheme. It is set to pull the plug, even though it will mean paying £30m compensation to the frustrated Cory Wheelabrator consortium.

Pickles was due to deliver his decision by mid-January but was still sitting on the fence at the end of March. There has been much politicking behind the scenes - a classic cause of sector uncertainty.

But it’s not just the political element. There is still no broad consensus on what level of infrastructure the industry needs for EfW and how waste arisings will change in coming years. It was a core theme of a discussion I chaired at the 2013 RWM and contrasting claims from consultancies persuaded Veolia to commission its own research.

Renewable energy as a whole is an uncertain marketplace. Suggestions this week that the Prime Minister was preparing to rein back on wind farms prompted Renewable UK, the industry lobby group, to say: “Rumours like this make the UK look a less secure place to invest”.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s new inquiry into the waste management sector in England is certainly timely.

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