AN ESTIMATE that taxpayers could be exposed to penalties as high as €350 million over 25 years for the proposed Poolbeg incinerator has been described as “hypothetical” by Dublin City Council.
“The four Dublin local authorities are satisfied that, even after maximum recycling, there will be sufficient waste for the Poolbeg incinerator and therefore the scenario envisaged [in a report by John Hennessy SC] will not arise,” it said.
But the Irish Waste Management Association, which opposes Poolbeg, said the report commissioned by former minister for the environment John Gormley “highlights the huge financial risk that this project poses to taxpayers”.
Association spokesman Brendan Keane said the potential waste of money “now mirrors the types of losses more commonly associated with Nama” and the full report should be made public.
Minister for the Environment Éamon Ó Cuív said he had sought advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher on a number of legal issues and would be working with Cabinet colleagues to conclude this process.
“I am anxious to ensure that the matter of publication and related issues . . . are fully considered,” the Minister added.
Dublin City Council said there was nothing surprising about extracts from the report published yesterday because of the way in which Mr Hennessy’s terms of reference were drafted when Mr Gormley was minister.
It said the controversial “put or pay” clause in its contract with US waste management company Covanta would give the four Dublin local authorities “priority access to 320,000 tonnes of treatment capacity at the Poolbeg plant” over its 25-year term. The council said Covanta also had the option to source waste from the market and was in negotiations with waste collectors – although the company itself had no comment to make. Dublin’s waste is now being landfilled in counties Kildare and Cavan.
In 2008, even with a recycling rate of 40 per cent, more than 735,000 tonnes of waste from Dublin was landfilled. While the volume of waste was decreasing as a result of the recession, it “will increase in line with economic recovery”.
The council claimed the Hennessy report’s terms of reference did not take into account “the millions of euro that will accrue to the Dublin local authorities annually from the electricity and district heating”. The plant would generate sufficient electricity for 50,000 homes and district heating for a further 60,000 homes annually from the non-recyclable waste that would be treated there. “This is valued at some €10 million annually, at today’s prices.”
Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan TD has said his party ‘‘would not rely in any way’’ on the Hennessy report.
Instead, it would commission another senior counsel to examine what exposure would arise for taxpayers if the project was cancelled.
Mr Hogan called on Mr Gormley to retract an “outrageous slur” on his political integrity by suggesting on Newstalk radio that an official complaint he had made about the former minister’s actions had been done in conjunction with Covanta’s lawyers.
Ruairí Quinn, Labour TD for Dublin South East, is on record as describing the Poolbeg incinerator as a “foolish proposal”. He was joined by Labour councillors in objecting to the plan when it came before An Bord Pleanála in 2006. The board approved it, however.