Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Did "due diligence" trip achieve its objectives?

A large collection of environmental data linked to the pioneering waste incinerator on which a similar facility for the Scottish Borders was to have been based shows there were many outstanding unresolved technological issues when a Borders delegation inspected the plant last October.

The 16-strong deputation from Scottish Borders Council made a two-day "due diligence" trip to the New Earth Solutions processing centre at Avonmouth, Bristol, presumably in a bid to satisfy themselves and the residents they serve that the revolutionary Energy from Waste incinerator was performing to a high standard.

After all the council had so much faith in the so-called NEAT (New Earth Advanced Technology) system that it signed up for an identical complex to be developed at Easter Langlee in October 2012, more than six months before the prototype Avonmouth plant had even generated its first megawatt of electricity.

Unfortunately the entire concept had to be scrapped a few months after the visit to Bristol due to "technological and funding issues" at a cost to local taxpayers of at least £2 million. But SBC has yet to provide the public with a detailed explanation for the venture's abject failure.

Those who are concerned over this horrific waste of public money can only speculate what took place at last October's summit between SBC's finest and the executives of New Earth Solutions and its subsidiary New Earth Solutions (Scottish Borders) Ltd, the local authority's appointed contractors.

But Not Just Sheep and Rugby has been given access to Environmental Agency paperwork on the Avonmouth plant during 2013 and 2014 together with a confidential 38-page report on the incinerator prepared by New Earth themselves.

The Environment Agency (EA) material includes reports of contraventions of the operating permit. There are also copies of inspection reports and audits which reveal a range of problems, including an ongoing issue with bottom ash, a by-product of the incineration process.

Another document shows the dates of unauthorised emissions from the facility. The total number recorded is 191 with some multiple unauthorised emissions on certain dates.
New Earth's own report reveals that the amount of bottom ash being produced at the plant actually increased throughout 2014. The ash is disposed of in a local landfill, 17 miles from the incineration site.

There appears to have been 17 incident and inspection reports included on EA files during the course of 2013 and a further 21 instances logged in 2014. It should be remembered that all of these reports were generated long after SBC deemed NEAT to be the best solution in the council's drive to divert refuse from landfill.

Was the delegation shown the EA documentation, which is available on the agency's register, and if so what did they make of it? Or did they even ask to see it? The various reports are too numerous to publish here, but this one selected at random might have prompted the SBC group to ask questions.

"The operator's Accident Management Plan (AMP) was audited. The current issue was version 3, dated 14/03/14. It was structured around the impact of an incident rather than around the risks of an activity. While it identified control measures, it did not estimate risk nor attempt to prioritise certain activities as being more risky than others.

.... An indicator of particular concern (seen on 09/05/14) was that a fire extinguisher was recorded as having been used to put out a fire on the Telehoist in the area where refuse derived fuel is stored. This was recorded as a near miss. It had not been investigated. We had, therefore, a written record that a small fire had taken place in an area where many tonnes of combustible material are stored. We believe that this shows there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of a major fire. Accordingly, the failure to plan adequately for accidents is a category 2 non-compliance with permit conditions. We also looked at actions arising from the AMP. Training and maintenance are necessary to implement control measures. Neither had been adequately carried out, and there are no written procedures to achieve adequate performance. Also, the maintenance that had been carried out was not adequately documented, in the sense that the operator was unable to locate the documentation to show that certain tasks had been completed."

It seems that despite all of the above (and much more besides) the Avonmouth facility passed SBC's "due diligence" test with flying colours.

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