Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will not be intervening to prevent the Poolbeg incinerator going ahead, even though Dublin City Council would face “very substantial” penalties if it failed to provide sufficient municipal waste to fuel it over 25 years.
The confirmation of the council’s exposure to penalties came in a report prepared by John Hennessy SC for Mr Hogan’s predecessor, former Green Party leader John Gormley, which the Minister has now released in a heavily redacted form.
Although he said he was publishing it “in the interests of openness and transparency”, all references to the scale of the financial penalties and other crucial aspects of the contract between the council and its American partners, Covanta, have been deleted.
Mr Hogan said that he “had to redact commercially sensitive aspects, thereby respecting the confidential nature of certain information which was provided to Mr Hennessy to assist him in compiling his report” - including information provided by Covanta itself.
Mr Hennessy had been appointed by the former Minister as an “authorised person” under section 224 of the 2001 Local Government Act 2001, to examine potential financial risks associated with the project within a given set of scenarios.
The report concluded that termination or variation of the Poolbeg contract would “give rise to significant financial cost” for the city council and that trends in waste management and recycling was also likely to make it “very expensive” for the council.
“The scenarios envisaged under the terms of reference for this report tend to suggest that DCC may well be paying, for a considerable period of time, for the processing of significantly more waste than it is able to deliver to the facility”, Mr Hennessy wrote.
Commenting on his 92-page report, Mr Hogan said the senior counsel who compiled it was “required to work within predetermined parameters and scenarios set in the terms of reference given to him” by the former minister, who opposed Poolbeg.
“Having consulted with my Government colleagues, I have concluded that there is no national waste policy justification for the Government to intervene in this matter”, the Minister said. One of them is Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, who represents Dublin South East.
“The Dublin Regional Waste Management Plan makes provision for the project and decisions in relation to it are a matter for the two parties to the contract, Dublin City Council and Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd” - the company which Covanta now controls.
The Minister said his focus “is firmly fixed on completing, by the end of the year, the review of national waste policy which he has initiated”. This review is widely expected to endorse “waste-to-energy” plants, such as the one planned for Poolbeg.
“Responsibility for waste management plans and their implementation is, and will remain, a matter primarily for local authorities, guided by the internationally recognised waste hierarchy”, Mr Hogan said, adding that this was “transposed into Irish law earlier this year”.
Dublin City Council said the “restricted terms of reference” of the Hennessy report “did not take into account the wider context which is relevant to understanding the Project and why it is necessary”, such as the requirements of EU waste management directives.
It pointed out that the four Dublin local authorities currently “have to issue a new contract every six months and waste facilities all around the country compete to take Dublin’s waste as there is no more landfill space available in the Dublin region”.
The Irish Waste Management Association has said the so-called ‘put or pay’ contract between Dublin City Council and Covanta to build the 600,000 tonne incinerator posed “a massive and unacceptable ongoing debt risk to taxpayers”.
Director of the association Brendan Keanve said it didn’t matter if waste levels dropped to zero.
“Covanta will continue to make a handsome profit since all taxpayers and ratepayers have signed a blank cheque to underwrite the facility.”
Last month, private waste companies said they would create 235 full-time jobs if the capacity of the planned Poolbeg incinerator was halved.