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Proud pioneer of British industry

Viridor wants to see its £1bn investment in energy from waste realised. Alan Cumming, capital projects and engineering director, explains why

Perhaps it was being born in the shadow of Europe’s largest hot strip steel mill at Ravenscraig, that I knew instinctively, and early on, engineering was for me.  

But why the move to waste - an industry much maligned, and overshadowed by sectors of the green economy with more aesthetic appeal? 

The draw for me was an industry in transition, emerging from a proud collection and landfill heritage, pioneering renewable energy.  It is now a sector embracing change, investing in modern, next generation infrastructure, transforming waste through enhanced recycling and recovering energy from what remains. 

What’s more, Viridor has, probably, the largest live capital projects programme in the process and power industry in the UK.  The nuclear build skills are therefore directly transferable to delivering EfW.

Waste reduction, re-use, enhanced recycling and recovering value from what remains are UK success stories.  New nuclear has been restrained by policy and politics. But the UK and European waste framework and a strong Climate Change Act and increasing landfill levies have fostered fresh thinking in town halls, businesses and communities across the country. They have nurtured private and public sector confidence to invest in next generation infrastructure.

Investment in MRF, AD and EfW infrastructure is well underway. The prospect of driving Viridor’s safe, on-time and on-budget delivery of a £1bn energy from waste programme as capital projects and engineering director was too tempting to resist.

My commitment today is as a strong advocate of our sector and the role of EfW.  EfW is a central component and “key enabler” of our circular economy.  Much more than landfill diversion and its role in the waste hierarchy, EfW as a largely renewable energy source provides a valuable source of low carbon energy.  It complements renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and contributes to targets aimed at decarbonising energy generation.  It reduces too our reliance on volatile, imported energy and boosts energy security.

Modern EfW facilities, working with materials recycling and anaerobic digestion technologies, operate safely and effectively across the globe.  With over 20 plants in the UK and 400 across Europe, EfW provides a secure, proven and financially viable solution. But despite £3.8bn of industry EfW investment over the last five years in facilities such as our Lakeside joint venture, a further £6.8bn of investment is required.

Of over 130 proposed EfW projects in the UK involving thermal treatment of MSW wastes (excluding AD, biomass, MBT and autoclave) with a capacity for 25 million input tonnes of fuel, the reality is that a significant proportion will never be realised. Indeed, Viridor’s view is that by 2020 only 25 (less than 20%) of these proposals will be realised. 

It’s vital therefore that Viridor’s £1bn investment and network of nine additional strategic sites in development are delivered.  That’s a network supporting around 2,000 jobs across development and operation.  Viridor and its partners have a total operational, under construction and committed capacity of 2.5m tonnes of which 1.3m tonnes are currently backed by long term municipal contracts.  It has a further 0.6m tonnes consented, awaiting commencement. 

Viridor’s programme will help transform the business further, realising facilities adding £100m to EBITDA within four years.  But just as the business is transforming, so is its culture – attracting the brightest and the best.  Indeed a newly structured delivery team combines leading figures from the energy and construction sectors globally. Combined with a Project Academy to train a talent pipeline of key teams, we are shaping up well to deliver for and continue to support our client base.

In addition to projects in operation, Runcorn I and II EfW CHP plants are in construction, with Cardiff, Exeter, Ardley and Glasgow EfW facilities likewise.  Peterborough will commence shortly with planning achieved at Beddington and Dunbar.

Our investment programme is rooted in the UK, developing UK infrastructure, and creating employment, training and placement opportunities. It is generating supply chain opportunities for British SMEs and social enterprises and supporting education and awareness in local communities.

It is a programme fundamentally at odds with those who export UK resources capable of powering growth in our economy and providing energy security.  With the Environment Agency permitting 1.9m tonnes of waste-derived fuels to be lost from the UK economy annually, at a time when the UK is increasingly importing biomass, this madness – this Jekyll and Hyde policy framework must end.

Looking skywards firstly, we were and are again the original green economy pioneers.  Secondly, as a sector we’re larger, more important and more integral to the UK economy than we often think. 

We can learn much from sectors such as nuclear and renewables.  It’s time to raise our game.  And with a nod to communities like Ravenscraig, it’s time to take pride in building a Great British industry once again.

CASE STUDY: RUNCORN

  • 850,000 tonne Energy Recovery Facility at Runcorn.
  • Built in two phases, combined plant will be one of the largest and most efficient in Europe producing 70MW of electricity and 51MW of heat.
  • Phase I supports Viridor’s partnership with the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority (GMWDA). 
  • The £160m investment in Phase II will release 375,000 tonnes of capacity to the market from 2014/15.

CASE STUDY: CARDIFF

  • 350,000 tonne Energy from Waste facility with Combined Heat and Power. 
  • 30MW of renewable energy and partnership with E.ON and Cardiff Council for 20MW of heat output.
  • Supporting Viridor’s preferred bidder status on Prosiect Gwyrdd with additional commercial capacity.

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