Peterborough prepares to incinerate its waste

who_cares07:07 Thursday 7th August 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Our top story this morning, could your household waste soon be used to power your home? Well almost, if you live in Peterborough. The energy from waste plant being built in Fengate is almost ready to start accepting waste and we were given a tour of the facility yesterday. The plant, which is the first of its kind in the UK, will turn our standard household gubbins into energy. Only Peterborough’s waste will be accepted though, and Viridor, the company leading the project, hope that this will provide power for up to 12,000 homes in the area.

PAUL STAINTON: Not everyone is convinced about the green credibilities of this plant. Richard Olive is from Peterborough Friends of the earth. Richard, good morning.
RICHARD OLIVE: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s not to love? All that waste that’s not going to landfill. It’s going into this incinerator. It’s burnt and then all this electricity is recovered. Surely that’s the very essence of ecology, isn’t it?
RICHARD OLIVE: It sounds good, doesn’t it? Actually getting energy from waste. And Friends of the earth aren’t opposed to energy from waste technology. But we aren’t in favour of this one.

RICHARD OLIVE: Well it’s a very inefficient process to start with. Nearby to the new incinerator is the existing power station. That was built in 1993, and that retrieves or produces electricity at 48% efficiency. But the energy from waste facility will only have an efficiency of 27%. And of course the green aspects. It is still actually burning fossil fuels. Most of the calorific energy is actually coming from plastic. So it isn’t really green. it’s actually adding even more to the climate change problems. Basically the rule is that each ton of waste which is actually burnt, it actually produces the same amount of carbon dioxide. So if this plant, and it’s total capacity is actually 85,000 tons, if it’s actually operating at full capacity, it will actually produce 85,000 tons of additional carbon dioxide, which will be adding to the climate change problems.
PAUL STAINTON: So should Peterborough City Council have gone for a cleaner greener more cost-effective system?
RICHARD OLIVE: Well certainly. If you look around, loads of other local authorities have cancelled their plans for incinerators. Just over the way in Norfolk, they’ve cancelled their plans, even though they’ve signed a contract and they’re going to incur £30 million worth of damages. At Stewartby a plant has been cancelled. And of course people living in southern Cambridgeshire will be aware that Cambridgeshire treats its waste in a completely different way, a much more environmentally friendly way.
PAUL STAINTON: You have the mechanical biological treatment.
RICHARD OLIVE: At Waterbeach. Yes. Which is much superior.
PAUL STAINTON: The Terminator.
PAUL STAINTON: They call it the Terminator, don’t they?
RICHARD OLIVE: Terminator, do they?
PAUL STAINTON: It hadn’t been working for a while, but it’s working now.
RICHARD OLIVE: Yes. I know they have had teething problems with it. But as I understand it it is all resolved now. Of course they are new technologies. And of course incinerators often break down.
PAUL STAINTON: I remember when we had the Peterborough Breakfast Show many years ago, two or three years ago now, somebody said this Council plant is overpriced, thirty years out of date, we shouldn’t build it. Why do you think they’ve gone ahead?
RICHARD OLIVE: Well let’s remember the Council was actually advised in terms of which route to go down to treat its waste. And its adviser was a gentleman called Ian Crummack. And he was managing director of the Cyclerval incinerator in Grimsby. And he advised the Council that incineration was the way to go.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you making some sort of accusation there?
RICHARD OLIVE: No. That’s fact. All the way along they’ve actually used his advice. They didn’t actually pay for his services. But it all seems to have stemmed from that. We do wonder, in view of the arguments against incineration, why they’ve still gone for it. And of course although it’s going to produce 15% of electricity for Peterborough’s houses, it won’t be cheap. In these austerity days it’s quite surprising the Council have actually borrowed £75 million to build this. And the running costs will actually be £3.75 million per year.
PAUL STAINTON: Where have you got those figures from? Because Peterborough City Council are not releasing the running costs.
RICHARD OLIVE: The only way you can actually do it to actually compare equivalent plants around the country. When Friends of the Earth were actually involved in researching, we looked at a similar sized Cyclerval plant which was built in Exeter, almost the same size as the Peterbroough one. And they actually declared their actual running costs. So it’s very very likely that it’s going to be something similar to that. In fact it’s possibly going to be, it could even be up to £10 million a year. But conservatively it will be £3.75 million, even when the value of electricity is factored in.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it not worth it though? Is it not worth it to avoid putting all this stuff in landfill? We’ll address some of the concerns you’ve raised by the way. The Council are going to be on after eight, so we’ll address some of your concerns, particularly about the advice. But is it not worth the fact that all this stuff is not going into landfill?
RICHARD OLIVE: Well of course, yes, we shouldn’t be landfilling. But the big problem with landfilling is the biological waste. That’s the stuff that really does the harm. Obviously it emits methane and CO2. So that’s one good reason why you shouldn’t bury it. But Peterborough to its credit is actually now collecting food waste, which is one of the big contributors. It collects garden waste. So there actually isn’t that much material going into landfill which actually does any harm. So most of it is inert. So it doesn’t really make much difference. In fact in some respects it’s best to leave the plastic as it is and to bury it. It doesn’t actually emit anything which actually causes climate change problems. And it’s a cheaper option. It costs about £3 million a year to actually bury waste, against £3.75 to actually burn it.
PAUL STAINTON: Richard thank you for that. Richard Olive’s alternative point of view on this new incinerator, energy from waste plant being built in Fengate, which is almost ready to start accepting waste. He says it’s better to put plastic in the ground than it is to burn it. And it’s not that cost efficient. The Council say, well, it’s going to provide electricity for homes. It’s going to provide businesses with safe and cost-effective alternatives to landfill. We’ll be speaking to Peterborough City Council after eight this morning.

PAUL STAINTON: Out of date, inefficient and unfriendly to the environment. That’s the slamming words of the Peterborough Friends of the Earth. It described a new waste disposal system that will turn Peterborough’s rubbish into energy as out of date. The energy recovery system will convert 85,000 tons of waste every single year. The plant is being built to run for the next 30 years. It’s hoped it will provide enough power for 12,000 homes, and provide an environmentally friendly alternative to landfill. But Richard Olive from Peterborough Friends of the Earth says that Peterborough City Council have chosen the wrong technology to deal with their waste. And it’s not necessarily that environmentally friendly.
RICHARD OLIVE: It’s a very inefficient process to start with. Nearby to the new incinerator is the existing power station. That retrieves or produces electricity at 48% efficiency. But the energy from waste facility will only have an efficiency of 27%. And of course the green aspects. It is still actually burning fossil fuels. Most of the calorific energy is actually coming from plastic. So it isn’t really green. it’s actually adding even more to the climate change problem
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s speak to Cllr Gavin Elsey. He’s Peterborough’s Cabinet member for Street scene, waste management and communications. Gavin, morning.
GAVIN ELSEY: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: First of all I’ll let you respond to Richard’s comments. He also said, I think he insinuated earlier, that you’d been blind-sided by some advice from somebody who was already running similar things.
GAVIN ELSEY: Well Richard as ever is entitled to his opinion. We’ve been through extremely rigorous processes, both in terms of finance and in terms of choosing what we believe to be the correct technology for Peterborough. And rather than it being a damp squib for Peterborough, it’s absolutely tremendously exciting and exceptionally good news.
GAVIN ELSEY: As you’ve already said we’re going to be providing .. generating energy to power twelve to twelve and a half thousand homes. We’ve looked at all of the types of technology we could have used and we believe that this is absolutely the right one for Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: Still burning fossil fuels though, aren’t you?
GAVIN ELSEY: The reality is that the waste has to go somewhere. You know. What we can’t do is determine what people put in their rubbish bin. And we as a council have a duty to deal with that in the most efficient way that we possibly can. And frankly continuing to stick it in the ground isn’t an option. It’s costly. It’s unevironmentally friendly. And it’s just the wrong thing to be doing.
PAUL STAINTON: Richard’s argument was that actually it’s better to stick plastic in the ground than it is to burn it.
GAVIN ELSEY: Well plastics is a small proportion of what will be going into the energy from waste plant. So what do you want me to say to that?
PAUL STAINTON: Well I’m just asking whether it’s more environmentally friendly to burn plastic or put it in the ground.
GAVIN ELSEY: I’m not a scientist, but I know that we’ve gone through a process, and with regard to plastics obviously we’re continuing to ask people to increase the amount of plastics that they recycle. As a result of a deal that we’ve struck with our partners across the whole of Cambridgeshire through an organisation called Recap which is Recycle in Cambridge and Peterborough, we are increasing over the next twelve months the amount of plastics which can be recycled, so people can put them in their green bin rather than their black bin. So we’re doing everything we can to mitigate the amount of plastic which will actually be going into the energy from waste plant.
PAUL STAINTON: There are concerns aren’t there, and there have been concerns for a couple of years, even when we had the Peterborough Breakfast Show there were concerns, that the technology that you’re going ahead with is years and years out of date. Other councils, particularly Norfolk, have abandoned their plans to build these incinerators completely. Are you confident you’ve made the right decision here, and it is up to date technology?
GAVIN ELSEY: I’m absolutely confident. We’ve gone to the market. The technology that we’re using is the first of its type in the UK. It’s been used across Europe and other parts of the world in extremely efficient recycling and environmentally friendly places like Denmark, Sweden and Germany etcetera. And we believe that this is absolutely the right technology.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re only taking waste from Peterborough. I’m sure, when we first talked about this, the plan was to take waste from a much wider area. Has the business plan changed?
GAVIN ELSEY: We built a plant which takes into consideration what we need now for Peterborough and the expected growth over the next thirty years for Peterborough. What we don’t want to be doing is counterbalancing the effectiveness and the environmentally friendly credentials of the plant by increasing lorries by their hundreds into Peterborough on a daily basis.
PAUL STAINTON: So is the answer yes? The business plan has changed.
GAVIN ELSEY: Yes. Absolutely. We’ve built a plant which is suitable for Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. OK. But it’s going to take a lot of money to run, isn’t it? How much is it going to cost to run it for a year?
GAVIN ELSEY: I haven’t got that figure with me Paul. I can find out for you and come back to you.
PAUL STAINTON: Well the estimate is three millon, four million pounds. Surely the more you bring in, the more waste you bring in, the more money you make, don’t you?
GAVIN ELSEY: well no. Because it’s economies of scale, isn’t it? Because you then need to have a bigger plant, so it costs you more to build it, it costs you more to run it. So we’ve built what we believe is right for Peterborough as a city.
PAUL STAINTON: You approved the plans, didn’t you, for this?
GAVIN ELSEY: It was actually my predecessor.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. But you should know how much it’s going to cost to run, shouldn’t you?
GAVIN ELSEY: I’ve got the figures, but I haven’t got them with me. So forgive me, but I was asked to come on your show last night. i haven’t been back to anywhere where I can have got the information on me, so forgive me but I haven’t got that figure with me. Like I said ..
PAUL STAINTON: But it’s going to be profitable. It’s going to make money.
GAVIN ELSEY: And with the greatest of respect if it costs £3 million a year to run, given that we’re about to spend £5 million over 2014 for landfill charges, that’s actually a batter deal for the people of Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: And will they get cheaper electricity, or will it just ensure the electricity supply?
GAVIN ELSEY: It will ensure the electricity supply. I can’t give you tariff charges at this moment in time, because there are a lot of un-quantifiables that will make a difference up until the point that electricity is actually being generated. So I can’t tell you how much it will be. But certainly our drive for this is to firstly produce the most efficient way that we believe we can deal with the residual waste that people produce, to produce energy which will make sure that Peterborough as a city has energy going forward, when we know that energy is a consideration and a concern across the country. And we believe that we’ve done the right thing.
PAUL STAINTON: Gavin, thank you very much.