Wednesday 21 July 2010

Plan to scupper incinerator will cost taxpayer millions

Taxpayers will face a compensation bill running into hundreds of millions of euro if Environment Minister John Gormley succeeds in new moves to scupper the Poolbeg incinerator, according to Dublin City Council.

The council has warned of "serious financial repercussions" for the State if the minister goes ahead with major changes announced last week. These include severe restrictions on the amount of waste going to the incinerator plant when it eventually opens and the imposition of levies on waste contractors sending material there.

Mr Gormley, who shares a constituency with the incinerator, said this could make the €350m project "unviable".

However, in a hard-hitting reaction to the minister's new waste policy unveiled last week, the city council said it had a contract for the construction of the waste to energy facility. "This contract was entered into in line with current government waste policy and the current regional waste management plan," a council statement said.

"Any proposal which might alter that policy at this stage, could have serious repercussions for the Dublin region and thereby the State - both financial and in meeting its commitments in relation to waste management," it warned.

The council said the project was the the final piece of infrastructure needed for the Dublin region to achieve its aim of maximum recycling and minimum waste going to landfill.

It had full planning permission from An Bord Pleanála, as well as a waste licence from the Environmental Protection Agency. It also had permission from the Commission for Energy Regulation to generate energy.

Permission to supply energy to the national grid had been approved by the Department of the Environment. The National Development Finance Agency - on behalf of the Department of Finance - had also confirmed it was good value for money.

The council refused to comment on the financial implications of not proceeding with the contract. However, the Irish Independent has learned that the State - and, ultimately, taxpayers - could face a compensation claim running into hundreds of millions of euro.

Covanta, the US waste company behind the construction of the incinerator, accused the minister of having a prima facie conflict of interest in adjudicating on a foreshore licence for the plant when he is opposed to it.

A spokesman said - "The minister is adjudicating on a project that he has said he is opposed to. He should remove himself from the adjudication process. There is a prima facie conflict of interest. This application has been in with him for the past two years."

The minister has yet to have a face-to-face meeting with US Ambassador Dan Rooney over his failure to grant the foreshore licence for a water cooling system.

Rejecting the conflict-of-interest claims, a spokesman for the minister confirmed that the foreshore licence was dealt with by a ministerial order and the process would be "fair and objective."

Responsibility for such licences was only transferred to the department last January and some 700 applications were being considered.

Incineration has been a cornerstone of repeated government waste strategies.

Mr Gormley said having an incinerator capable to handling 600,000 tonnes of waste was totally incompatible with best international practice. "I'm not deviating one iota from this," he said at the launch of the new waste strategy.

The Irish Independent

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