EWAN LAMB reports on more reaction to the sale of Avonmouth
The high risk thermal treatment techniques sanctioned by Borders councillors for a waste processing facility at Galashiels represent technologies of the past rather than the future, according to a leading anti-incineration network.
Meanwhile a highly respected waste management expert has told Not Just Sheep & Rugby that the decision by Scottish Borders Council to vary a long-term contract with New Earth Solutions in 2012 to include the unproven methods of incineration had been "a complete disaster" for the Borders.
These are the latest reactions to reach us following the disclosure that NES is selling off its "ground breaking" Avonmouth Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) after failing to sort out numerous technical problems at the plant. It was to be the forerunner of a similar disposal centre to serve the Borders until the council voted to extricate themselves from the deal in February after squandering millions of pounds on planning the project and commissioning expensive 'specialist' advice.
New Earth had hoped their ERFs at Avonmouth and Easter Langlee would generate further income from electricity sales and renewable energy subsidies in the form of so-called obligation certificates.
But following the seemingly insurmountable difficulties at Avonmouth - the plant requires substantial further investment if it is to become viable - NES now hopes to sell off the energy business to a bank and an institution at a considerable loss to shareholders and investors. Instead the Borders' preferred bidders say they will form a stand-alone waste business which hopes to export Refuse Derived Fuel to be burned in Germany. A waste industry insider described the latest moves as "a complete and utter shambles".
Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) told us: "New Earth Solutions seems to have found only problems and not solutions when it came to experimenting with gasification and pyrolysis incineration technologies."
Their latest candid and somewhat apologetic statement to shareholders acknowledged that the technologies continued to carry substantial risk, said Mr Dowen.
He added: "Even if it could somehow be made to work, this would be a technology of the past rather than one of the future. As a society we need to be reducing waste and increasing recycling, rather than finding risky and expensive ways to dispose of valuable resources.
"As such, the company owes a double apology to those who have financed and subsidised this venture."
The waste management specialist who offered us his opinion claimed Scottish Borders Council's decision to vary the contract with NES had been a complete disaster for SBC. The original deal signed in 2011 had given NES eight years to develop the ERF technology due to its immaturity at a time when it had still to be proven to be viable.
It seemed there had only been a six per cent difference in guaranteed diversion rates (from landfill) between just having the Mechanical Biological Treatment facility at Galashiels (80 per cent) and having both the MBT and ERF capabilities (86 per cent). The MBT, which was fully tried and tested, and received all of the necessary operating certificates, would have been viablke on its own.
He said: "Having read the note to shareholders, it re-enforces how well NES are at normal waste disposal operations; hence this is why the original contract will have focused only on the MBT."
Our expert commentator said NES was struggling to get the ERF to perform to acceptable levels although he was unable to offer an opinion as to whether NES could survive going forward.
But he added: "Even if NES had built the MBT at Easter Langlee and then gone bust, the facility would have reverted to the council to operate or to have an alternative operator, probably at no additional cost. The sad thing is the cost of waste disposal will cost SBC millions more in the future."