Wednesday 3 February 2010

Gormley to examine Poolbeg contract

Minster for the Environment John Gormley said he plans to appoint an authorised officer to examine the detail of the contract for the controversial Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin.

Mr Gormley said he wanted to be clear on the contingent liabilities contained in the contract.

Dublin City Council, which is involved in the joint venture, has committed itself to supplying a minimum of 320,000 tonnes of municipal waste annually to the Covanta consortium, which is building the plant. If the council is unable to meet this target it must pay a fee for every tonne of waste below the agreed level.

Mr Gormley was also critical of a report published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which claims his policy on waste incineration has “no underlying rationale” and is likely to impose “needless costs on the economy”.

Mr Gormley said on RTÉ’s News at One that it appeared the ERSI was allowing itself be used as part of a public relations campaign.

He said: “There are one or two aspects of the report which are helpful but I do regret that they have been drawn into what is clearly a public relations campaign on behalf of Dublin City Council and Covanta and it is no coincidence that the report was released today and it is simply to undermine Government waste policy.

"Certainly in my time in public life, I’ve never come across anything like this where ESRI is used in that way and I think they departed from their normal standards in that regard.”

The report, commissioned by Dublin City Council, says the Minister’s policy of setting a cap of 30 per cent on the incineration of municipal waste could damage Ireland’s reputation as a place to do business and “will thus harm economic development and competitiveness”.

The report, An Economic Approach to Municipal Waste Management Policy in Ireland says the cap on incineration “may well be effective”. It would result in more waste being diverted to landfill, thereby making it “much harder and more costly” to comply with the EU landfill directive.

“Arbitrary limits on incineration and consequent expansion of MBT [mechanical and biological treatment] have no place in waste management policy,” it says, disputing Mr Gormley’s contention that his new policy would create jobs and improve competitiveness.

Mr Gormley denied there was anything arbitrary about the figures.

He said: “First of all there was a comprehensive international review conducted by the very best economists, engineers, environmental experts from five different countries.

“Likewise a Section 60 [policy direction document] was commissioned and an SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment) was done, again another 200 page document looking at it in detail.

“There’s nothing at all arbitrary about this.”

And Mr Gormley defended his approach saying MBT "has to be the cornerstone of waste policy in this country".

The ESRI report also claims that the recent international review of waste management practice – carried out for the Minister by consultants Eunomia – was “severely flawed” in setting its recommended levies for residual waste.

However, Dr Dominic Hogg lead author of Eunomia’s review said this afternoon that the ESRI report features a number of “factual errors” and “misplaced assumptions”.

“If ESRI were to correct the errors they have made, they would reach similar conclusions to those of our international expert team,” Dr Hogg said.

Earlier today the European president of Covanta, the US company planning to build the controversial Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin, defended its plans to provide capacity for treating 600,000 tonnes of municipal waste annually.

At a press briefing in Dublin this morning Scott Whitney, president of Covanta Energy in Europe, said he was confident there was sufficient waste available in Dublin to fuel the incinerator, which is known as a waste-to-energy plant.

Dublin City Council, which is involved in the joint venture, has committed itself to supplying a minimum of 320,000 tonnes of municipal waste annually to the Covanta consortium. Mr Whitney described this as “part of the financial underpinning of the project”.

Asked by The Irish Times whether Covanta was currently seeking contracts for the supply of waste from outside the Dublin region, Mr Whitney said the company was involved in talks with a number of suppliers and these talks were confidential. He declined to say if the talks included suppliers based outside of Dublin.

A spokesman for the Irish Waste Management Organisation, which has belatedly come out against the Poolbeg project, said it was his understanding that some of the suppliers involved in the talks were based in Co Wexford and Co Waterford.

Asked about Mr Gormley’s expressed wish that the size of the plant planned for Poolbeg, which is costed at €350 million, should be reduced to between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes, Mr Whitney pointed out that the Government had a responsibility to meet the terms of the EU Landfill Directive and he did not think this could be done without “utilising the full capacity of the facility we are planning”.

Preliminary construction has started on the site. Covanta says the three-year project will provide 500 buildings jobs and around 60 full-time positions once completed.

Irish Times

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