Monday, 21 August 2017

Not so NEAT: Borders project in intensive care!

DOUGLAS SHEPHERD shows why Scottish Borders Council were so keen to hide evidence...

If the lack of progress on the Scottish Borders' £23 million waste management facility at Galashiels was concerning the group of council staff and their advisers attempting to procure and deliver the scheme then their frustrations must have been magnified many times when the contractors warned of a further two year delay because of serious technical issues.

Newly released top secret documents from the Scottish Borders Council/New Earth Solutions files include stark warnings from consultants in December 2013 that:

*Development of the Easter Langlee Advanced Thermal Treatment [ATT] plant could be cancelled altogether.
* There was a risk that SBC would have no solution for dealing with the region's residual waste.
*New Earth Solutions could have decided to put the Scottish Borders project "on hold".

Our previous revelations have provided strong evidence of the repeated technical issues which were preventing any meaningful progress on the development of the so-called NEAT pyrolysis and gasification system needed to incinerate rubbish in the Borders.

And funding for the multi-million pound Easter Langlee job was dependent on the refinancing of New Earth's recently completed Avonmouth Energy from Waste project near Bristol. That particular plant would develop major problems in the months and years ahead, and it is currently closed down completely to facilitate radical modifications involving major additional investment by new owners.

The 'investment house' regarded as the most likely to bankroll the Borders venture was New Earth's partners New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] Ltd (NERR).

Reports and emails from two firms of consultants working for SBC - Nevin Associates and SLR Consulting - reveal the extent of the growing crisis which was threatening to envelop the project well over a year before SBC decided enough was enough and abandoned the scheme at a cost to local taxpayers of at least £2.4 million.

The SLR report, written after visits to Canford, the New Earth R&D centre in Kent, and to the Scottish Borders, coincided with NES's bombshell letter indicating a potential two years delay to the project whilst a demonstrator facility was built at Canford and was proven, leading to a re-jigged construction programme at Easter Langlee with commissioning now pushed back to July 2017.

The somewhat technical explanation states: "The justification given for the delay is the financing requirement to demonstrate a significant operation through from front-end to final engine exhaust as an integrated facility demonstrating utilisation of heat recovery and efficiencies of operation throughout".

This followed on from an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate a 120-hour testing programme when a new issue was determined and explained as being in connection with over-drying of feedstock and loss of sealing plug in the feed system which in turn led to a safety issue for the process.

According to SLR's expert: "As a part of the justification the implication is that NERR financing is more risk averse due to issues emanating from the Avonmouth facility's failure to meet targets and some scepticism perhaps with regards to anticipated outputs.

"Indirectly it was reported that the facility at Avonmouth operates at up to 75% of targeted performance and perhaps reading between the lines this may also be at the sacrifice of availability although this was not officially confirmed by NES."

SLR's report also reveals that between Oct 2015  and Feb 2016 the revised target was now for 2000 to 4000 operational hours leading to an ability to commit to financial close for the Scottish project in early 2016.  

"It was pointed out that plant operation indicated as July 2017 could jeopardise Renewables Obligation certification and NES indicated that they would look to bring this to March 2017 for operations to commence. Overall the programme seems to be very loose and SLR should question its accuracy and the ability for NES to be able to firmly guarantee anything with respect to meeting the proposed targets – especially in light of an inability to demonstrate 120-hours operation on the simplistic test facility within the past 6 months plus."

NES were unable to provide any confirmation with regards to conditions imposed by their own test facility finance which might be required before their project commencement date of April 2014 although this might link to demonstration of 120 hour test with the current test rig. 

SLR's report concludes: "In summary it is difficult for SLR to understand whether there is a reticence to try to develop because; data attained does not show the process favourably; if operational issues at Avonmouth are taking priority or are showing some fundamental issues with the technology; if the technical team are capable of addressing and managing the problems to an expedient solution."

The bottom line was that NES would not be in a position to commence work on the ATT facility at Easter Langlee until June 2016 although even that date - more than two years behind schedule - appeared optimistic.

In a separate contribution to the debate Nevin Associates wrote: "The 120 hour technology trial for NEAT starting on November 17 stopped after five hours when 'the fuel that forms the plug preventing air ingress into the pyrolysis tube failed, and in order to prevent significant damage to the plant, the plant was shut down.' This may have been the final incident that convinced NES to come clean and admit that there was no chance of implementing NEAT on a commercial scale in 2014 ."

Yet again Not Just Sheep & Rugby believes it must point out that Borders councillors had sanctioned the use of NEAT technology in OCTOBER 2012. It is therefore extremely surprising, and perhaps concerning, that the new files contain not a single contribution from elected members of the local authority.

There is no mention of councillors who should have been supervising planned expenditure of £23 million asking questions about potentially fatal blows for a vitally important environmental facility. If meetings were held and minutes were taken then they certainly have not been produced so we can only conclude they do not exist. 

The public's elected representatives must therefore shoulder responsibility for the decision to allow work on the project to continue unhindered beyond 2013 despite the evidence from documents now publicly available for the first time.

Nevin's report pointed out the revised programme meant that the detailed design of the Canford project would be completed by April 2014, and construction of the Canford demonstration facility would commence in July 2014.

"The facility itself will, on this programme, only become operational in July 2015, and revised schedule for the Easter Langlee facility – i.e. start on site in June 2016 – implicitly assumes that there will be no significant problems at Canford. If there are, then one could anticipate further delays, or even cancellation, of the Easter Langlee ATT facility.

"This could leave us hanging on the outcome of the Canford trials, over which we have no control, and if those were to fail or (more likely) take longer than anticipated to succeed, then we would still potentially be exposed to the risk of having no treatment solution in place for the Council’s residual waste."

In a separate comment, the consultant declared: "The paucity of information on the progress of the project suggests that NES have in effect put the Scottish Borders project on hold,".


No comments:

Post a Comment