Saturday, 18 April 2015

Environment agency files have a story to tell


A collection of 85 files containing copies of more than 700 pages of emails and letters shows the technology which was to be deployed at the ill-fated Easter Langlee Renewable Energy Facility had failed to allay the concerns of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency two years after Borders councillors gave it the thumbs up.

The information, released by SEPA following a Freedom of Information request, suggests Scottish Borders Council must now explain publicly why it decided to proceed with the untried system for converting domestic waste into heat and power in October 2012.

The failure to deliver the project - it was abandoned earlier this year - has cost council taxpayers at least £2 million while at the same time delaying a strategy to divert rubbish from landfill by several years.

SBC has already refused to answer questions concerning the risk assessments carried out for or on behalf of the council before awarding the contract for the £27 million treatment facility to New Earth Solutions (Scottish Borders) Ltd, part of the NES Group. They claimed that to disclose the information would cause substantial prejudice to commercial interests.

The local authority has also cited "commercial confidentiality" as the reason for refusing to release documents showing the steps it took to satisfy itself that New Earth had the technology and funding to carry out the project prior to an application for a permit variation to SEPA in April 2013.

But now the SEPA files reveal the host of unresolved issues - many of them concerned with emissions and noise levels - which were the subject of prolonged and detailed discussions between June 2013 and March 2015 when NES finally withdrew their application.

As previously reported, a large delegation of councillors and officers from SBC returned from a two day trip to an NES plant at Avonmouth, Bristol on October 2 & 3 2014 convinced they were "on the right track" and forecast the Galashiels facility would hopefully be up and running by mid-2017. Details of the visit were reported in the Border Telegraph on October 8.

That date is extremely significant as, according to the SEPA files, it was the day on which the agency informed New Earth it was not in a position to agree a so-called End of Waste application for Easter Langlee.

A SEPA officer wrote: "We are of the opinion that the information provided to date does not provide adequate demonstration that either the gases have been purified so they are no longer a waste prior to their incineration, or that they can cause emissions no higher than those resulting from burning natural gas. This means that at the present time we are unable to progress the determination of the Renewable Energy Facility (REF) part of the application for substantial variation [of the Pollution Prevention Control permit) based on the current design."

The message goes on to list six separate "key points" which New Earth Solutions must resolve. These are detailed technical issues, and reference is made to "little or no data" having been provided.

SEPA's email offers the applicants the opportunity to withdraw the REF part of the application "and make a new application when the information identified above is available".

This would have allowed NES to proceed with the development of the urgently needed Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant at Galashiels, a facility which had received all of the necessary certificates from SEPA in 2012 and which had the capability of reducing Borders refuse going to landfill by 80%.

But in a reply on October 9 New Earth told SEPA: "We would like to continue with the variation as submitted. At this stage we would not be looking to withdraw the energy facility part of the variation and re-submit".

Presumably those responsible for the project at Scottish Borders Council were fully aware of the serious unresolved technical issues and the refusal of NES to accept SEPA's offer at the time they were reassuring the press that everything was in order with their multi-million pound waste facility.


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