DUBLIN’S POOLBEG incinerator will not be viable unless the Dublin local authorities own and control all the waste in the region, the city council has told Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.
The council says it wants to stop collecting household bins, but it will need to have legal ownership of the waste collected by private operators and the right to determine the facility at which the waste will be disposed.
The council has for several years maintained the incinerator is viable, and that it has sufficient waste under its control to satisfy its contract with the plant developers – despite claims to the contrary by former minister for the environment John Gormley and private waste companies.
The council is now the only local authority in the Dublin region still collecting household bins. It said it believes it should exit the market, but will need to have control of the waste collected by private operators across the Dublin region to make the incinerator “bankable”.
The council’s position is outlined in a submission – made on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities – on Mr Hogan’s proposed restructuring of household waste markets.
The Government wants to introduce competitive tendering for local household waste collection services, which would involve private companies bidding for the franchise from local authorities to collect waste.
In the submission, seen by The Irish Times, the council supports the move to tender bin collections to private operators. Withdrawal from the market would allow the local authority to focus on its role as a regulator of waste collection, it said.
This is the first time the council has stated it should stop collecting bins. It emerged last month the council had entered into talks with Siptu, the union representing bin men, about the future of the service, which has been provided by the local authority for 150 years. The council refused to comment on the matter.
The submission also states any contracting out of the service “must allow for direction” to a specific facility.
It says the local authorities have been attempting to build the Poolbeg waste-to-energy plant for 10 years, in line with their obligations under statutory waste management plans.
“The regional objective to develop such a facility has been in place since the late 1990s, yet the facility remains unbuilt,” it said.
The difficulties in trying to develop the facility have hinged on key issues of the ownership of household waste, the ability to direct waste and project finance, the submission said.
“The issues are inter-related, and addressing one in isolation will not ensure that the facility is built and plan objectives are met. In trying to develop a regional facility, the Dublin local authorities realise that to make such a project bankable and viable the ability to direct waste must be available.”
Currently, the legal position is that whoever holds waste owns it, so it is owned by the householder until it is picked up by waste collectors, when ownership transfers.
The council said if it was to have firm legal grounds to tender out a waste service, and to direct private firms to bring the waste to a particular location, it would have to have legal ownership of the waste.
“Failure to vest ownership in local authorities may lead to legal concerns relating to the local authorities’ legal ability to introduce franchise bidding for something they do not own,” it said.
The council said it realised the change to franchising would mean some existing private operators would lose their markets, but it said there was not a strong case for compensation for that loss.
The council had tried in 2007 to introduce a similar system whereby it would choose waste providers by competitive tender, and direct the end destination of waste. A High Court action by waste firms Panda and Greenstar stopped it gaining this control.
Mr Gormley had planned to introduce a competitive tendering system, but without giving the local authorities the right to decide at what facility waste would be processed. However, the waste Bill was not passed into law before the last government fell.
Burning Issue Timeline To Incinerator
Dublin City Council adopts, by 18 votes to 13, a Regional Waste Management Plan that includes a provision for a 750,000 tonne capacity incinerator. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors vote in favour, Labour is split on the issue, while Greens and Independents oppose the plan.
Poolbeg peninsula is identified by consultants MC O’Sullivan and Danish thermal treatment experts COWI as the preferred site for the incinerator.
City councillors vote to block plans for the incinerator by a majority of 32 to five. Council management says the vote is not in order because it conflicts with the previously approved waste plan.
The council says the incinerator will be open by late 2010.
Elsam Ireland, a subsidiary of a Danish power firm, is selected to design, build and operate the plant under public private partnership with the council.
The council applies to An Bord Pleanála for permission for a 600,000 tonne capacity incinerator.
On the closing date for submissions to An Bord Pleanála more than 2,000 objections are received including ones from then tánaiste Michael McDowell, Labour TD Ruairí Quinn, and Green Party chairman John Gormley.
Elsam pulls out of the project after being taken over by another Danish firm, Dong Energy, which queries its viability and says it “is not able to meet the terms of the PPP”. Dong seeks to introduce Covanta, a US waste management company, as a partner.
John Gormley becomes minister for the environment and immediately begins reviewing what options are open to him to halt the project – although he is debarred from interfering with the planning process.
Following the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing and in advance of its decision on the planning application, the council signs a contract with Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd, a consortium formed by Dong and Covanta, for the as yet unapproved Poolbeg project.
The then assistant city manager with responsibility for waste Matt Twomey brings forward proposals to change the Dublin Regional Waste Management Plan to allow it to choose private bin collectors by competitive tender.
The council secures permission for the plant from An Bord Pleanála. Mr Gormley said he is “very disappointed” by the decision and intends to change waste policy.
The Environmental Protection Agency grants a waste licence for the plant.
Panda wins a High Court case against the council’s attempts to change waste collection service. Justice Liam McKechnie found the council abused its dominant position in the capital’s waste market.
Covanta begins construction of the facility.
Gormley proposes waste-disposal levies of up to €120 a tonne for incineration and landfill.
Work is suspended due to the lack of a foreshore licence, responsibility for which had been transferred to the Department of the Environment.
The council secures a compulsory purchase order, which made the foreshore licence unnecessary.
Bord na Móna and Oxigen are awarded contracts to dispose of Dublin’s waste in landfill sites following the closure of the last Dublin landfill.
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan drops Mr Gormley’s proposed levy on incineration. Covanta declares that the political situation here had “changed totally” and it could now finalise a financial package for the Poolbeg project, which could cost €400 million.
Review date of the contract between the city council and Covanta to confirm whether the incinerator will proceed.
Poolbeg plant due to open.