EWB Insight: March 2017

This month: The end of EfW catchment areas, European Commission backs biomass and a senior member of power station Drax's staff joins UK government advisory body

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EfW waste catchment areas being sidelined

Viridor successfully employed the EU’s proximity principle and previous planning cases this month to win permission to source waste from a wider area for its Trident Park energy-from-waste plant in Wales.

The move is a boost for the under-construction facility and also the latest in a long line of cases in which EfW developers seek to expand their geographic reach once planning consent has been awarded.

Viridor objected to the use of waste catchment areas in planning documents it sent to Cardiff City Council. It said it "draws conclusions" over the "applicability and enforceability of waste catchment restrictions" due to so many previous applications being allowed to amend previously imposed restrictions.

Viridor listed seven EfW projects, which have gained planning consent and then successfully extended waste catchment areas. The facilities were Javelin Park, Ardley, Lostock, Rookery, Ferrybridge Multifuel 1, Avonmouth and Ince Marsh.

However, in the past many other plants, including two in Corby, Northamptonshire, and one in Newhaven, East Sussex, have also  been able to extend their reaches - one of them to even take in the metropolitan sprawl of Greater London.

What Viridor’s latest planning victory clearly indicates though is when a facility gets planning consent, any restrictions then placed on it as part of the planning process can be challenged and overturned relatively easily at a later date.

Obviously, once the plant is given planning consent the usual public interest in the development dies down and extensions to waste catchment areas usually get little or no opposition from anti-incineration groups.

Interestingly, Viridor also cited the EU’s proximity principle which intends for waste to be "disposed of as close to the source as possible". In the UK, the interpretation of the principle has actually allowed EfW plants to take waste from much further away than originally intended.

Viridor’s own interpretation of the principle argued it was better to expand the reach of Trident Park across more of Wales than to see Welsh waste sent for processing in England or elsewhere in Europe.

When the facility was given its original planning consent, after seeing off a judicial review, it was strictly limited to south-east Wales. However, the municipality accepted Viridor’s arguments this month and extended this to include the south-west and west of Wales. The plant was put into operation in 2015.  

Data Watch

A biogas boom in the UK leading to more than 250 new plants being added over the past three years is "partly due" to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) backing the the biomethane sector, said trade association ADBA.

RHI support graph.png

So far 86 plants have applied for support under the scheme, according to ADBA. It added more than 400 applications were in the pipeline as of December 2016.  

Policy Update

EU member states should be allowed to cancel energy savings by switching to biomass, a leaked European Commission paper indicated. Countries could meet part of their energy savings obligation under the revised Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) with measures such as the replacement of old oil boilers with new biomass-fired units.

The European Parliament backed more ambitious recycling targets as MEPs voted for at least 70% of packaging waste to be be recycled by the end of 2025, rising to 80% by 2030. They also pressed for more ambitious municipal waste targets, saying 70% should be routinely recycled by 2030.

MEPs also called on the EU to phase out the use of vegetable oils in biofuels "preferably by 2020" and to set its own sustainability criteria for palm oil imports.  

Eurostat reported that in 2015 Sweden, Finland and Austria hit the EU’s 10% target for biofuel in transport for 2020. France and Slovakia were fairly close at 8.5% each. Eurostat reported overall renewables use in the EU in 2015 at 16.7% of final energy consumption.

The European Commission promised to turn up the pressure on Poland again after it ignored calls to stop logging in the protected Bialowieza forest. The EU executive launched an infringement investigation in June last year, but since then NGOs have said there’s been a lack of action.

Poland’s share of renewables in energy consumption fell short of its 2020 target, and the gap is likely worsen, the Polish Wind Energy Association (PSEW) said. Production decreased last year as the depressed price of renewable energy certificates led producers to give up on using biomass to produce energy.

Majority biomass-fired power station Drax’s head of sustainability and policy became the first business figure to join the UK’s influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Dr Rebecca Heaton said she would combine both roles. NGOs said the decision would "seriously undermine the credibility of a statutory body".

FCC Environment again criticised the UK government for failing to tackle the export of RDF. The company said the UK’s Budget was "a major opportunity missed". Currently, UK companies are paying to export waste, which other countries use to make fuel to power homes and businesses. This is simply not sustainable, it said.

A list of companies and individuals standing to make more than £5,000 under the controversial Northern Irish renewable heat incentive was published, prompting a warning from the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland (RHANI) that named recipients should not be assumed to have acted improperly.

A report backing the introduction of a CO2 tax was published by the Spanish biomass association AVEBIOM. The tax would combat climate change and deliver on the "polluter pays" principle, said the association.

The International Energy Agency asked Chatham House to "review" its report calling for biomass energy subsidies to be restricted to certain feedstock. A letter, co-signed by 125 research scientists, said the think tank’s "misleading" report was based on "unsubstantiated claims and flawed arguments".

Danish district heating association Dansk Fjernvarme claimed a tax on the use of biomass for heat was the wrong move. The socialist and green alliance party Enhedslisten proposed pushing the tax through parliament. However, Enhedslisten only has 14 out of the parliament’s 179 MPs and would need wider political backing for the tax.

Market Update

Welsh biomass plant developer Orthios said  "multiple sources" were willing to offer it financial backing after it ended a £2bn (€2.7bn) funding deal. "Phased monies" had been offered and business was "negotiating the most commercial rates".

US-based investment fund Trilantic Europe completed a €140m takeover of Abengoa’s four remaining European bioethanol-production sites, located in Spain and France.  Abengoa previously offloaded its US-based bioethanol production portfolio and one of its largest facilities in the Netherlands due to much-publicised financial troubles.

Danish utility Nature Energy said its large-scale biogas facilities would continue to boost its results after a solid 2016. The company reported gas prices down 23% compared with 2015, offset by additional revenue generated by biogas production. Its EBITDA was up a healthy 38.4% to DKK270m (€36.3m) from DKK195m (€26.2m) last year, when it boosted biogas production from 37,500 m3 of biogas per day in 2015 to 95,000 m3.

The UK’s Green Party claimed Gloucester was getting a bad deal financially under the municipality’s EfW plant contract. Gloucester County Council, which said the Javelin Park facility was the best value for money, has a contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty. The Greens said that half of the 190,000t/yr of waste planned to be processed at the plant would be organic materials that could be recycled for £50/t compared with the EfW plant’s rate of £146/t.

Oil company Neste said that use of its biodiesel helped to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a "staggering" 6.7 million tonnes last year, equivalent to removing 2.4 million passenger cars from the roads. It added that use of the fuel was also helping to reduce local air pollution.

Engineering firm UPB holdings reported its best financial year so far with a biomass-fired development in Latvia one of the main reasons. The company said completion of the 3.98MWe and 16.6MWth plant in Broceni was a large factor behind its results. Overall, the company said turnover was up 31% to €142m, the largest amount in its history.

Danish utility HMN Naturgas agreed to talks with government to "consolidate" the country’s gas distribution network and put its main commercial arm on the market. The Danish government wants to centralise the gas network, which is operated by several businesses across the nation. HMN, alongside NGF Nature Energy and Dong Energy, are the three main producers of upgraded biogas in Denmark’s grid system.

Lars Weiss, chairman of Copenhagen-based waste management firm Amager Ressource Center (ARC), quit the business citing issues over its direction. ARC is building the Amager Bakke EfW facility, which is currently over budget.

France-based Veolia won a €295m contract to operate the municipality-owned Antares EfW facility in Halluin, France. Veolia subsidiary Valnor will control the plant along with Idex under a joint venture called Covalys. The plant can treat up to 350,000t/yr and generated more than 650GWh of heat last year.

Sweden’s Göteborg Energi sold Njudung Energi Vetlanda its 90.5% majority share in Sävsjö Biogas. The company’s one plant can produce about 19GWh of biogas per year. The transaction is due to be finalised in June. The remaining shares in Sävsjö are owned by Vrigstad Fjärrvärme.

Facilities Update

The French government backed 12 biomass-fired and two biogas plants under the first of what it says will be several planned subsidy rounds. The plants will receive an average strike price of €122 per MWh of electricity. In all 41 projects had applied for funding.

The EnviRecover EfW facility began operating following a 33-month build. FCC Environment and Urbaser’s joint venture Mercia Waste Management, hired Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) to deliver the facility under its contract with Worcestershire County Council and the Herefordshire Council. EnviRecover will process up to 200,000t/yr of waste and will have a capacity of 15.5MWe.

Plans for a EfW plant being developed by German utility MVV in Dundee were approved. The facility will replace the existing municipality-owned DERL plant and will be located on the same Baldovie Industrial Estate. It is planned to open in 2020 and will process up to 110,000t/pa and have a capacity of around 39.9MWe. There are also plans to supply both electricity and the heat to a nearby Michelin tyre factory.

Planning consent for Indaver’s controversial 18.5MWe EfW plant in Cork was deferred for a fourth time. In a letter sent to interested parties planning body An Bord Pleanála took the unusual step of asking Indaver to "produce and clarify evidence" for proposed facility in Ringaskiddy before it makes a final decision.

Viridor and Grundon’s jointly owned Lakeside EfW plant became the first in the UK to send no waste to landfill. A deal with Carbon8 Aggregates achieved the milestone. However, the 37MWe plant faces the bulldozers to make way for expansion at the nearby Heathrow Airport.

UK-based Gent Fairhead & Co tried again for an environmental permit for its Rivenhall EfW and biogas facility. A permit was turned down last year when the EA said its stack height should be at least 70 metres. The revised application includes a 75 metre stack.

Suez Zielona Energia announced the opening of its PLN832m (€196.3m) Poznan EfW plant in Poland. Built by a consortium of Switzerland-based plant builder Hitachi Zosen Inova and Germany-based technology company Hochtief the plant will process 210,000 tonnes of waste per year. When operated in cogeneration mode it can produce about 130,000MWh of electricity and around 300,000GJ of heat per year.

Commissioning of Danish utility DONG Energy’s biomass converted Skærbæk plant was put back by "about two months",  according to TVIS, which invested in the conversion last year. The formerly coal-fired plant is now due be commissioned in October.

DONG also revealed the first municipal solid waste was scheduled to arrive at its under-construction REnescience biogas facility in Northwich, UK. The facility will be the first in the world to process household waste enzymatically. Full operations are expected from May.

DONG further revealed it would work with biogas plant builder Bigadan to fund the construction of an innovative facility using AD to process leftovers from insulin and enzyme production. The facility will have a production capacity of eight million m3 of biogas per year. Feedstock will be sourced from Novo Nordisk and Novozymes factories.

A biomass-fired gasification plant failed to sell at auction when bidding reached £19,000 (€21,800). This was above the site’s guide price of £10,000 (€11,764). But, auctioneers Lambert Smith Hampton hoped for more. The mothballed plant has a 1MWe capacity.

German firms Martin and Thöni signed a deal with waste management firm Biokompost-Gesellschaft to supply a dry fermentation biogas facility. It is the first order for such a plant made jointly by the two firms, since they started working together a year ago.

Wheelabrator indicated plans to expand its under-construction EfW facility in Kemsley, UK from 49.9MWe to 75MWe. The plan will need government approval to go over 50MW. It has already won planning consent at the smaller size.

TERSA’s Barcelona EfW facility commissioned a desalination plant able to reduce the site’s use of fresh water by up to 90%. The facility, known as Planta de Valorització Energètica (PVE), used to use drinking-quality water for different processes including boiler maintenance.

Finnish utility Fortum launched what it claimed was the largest project to store energy in the Nordic region at its biomass-fired plant in Järvenpää. The "Batcave" project would be able to supply 1MWh of electricity instantly, should the power grid need it, using about 6,600 lithium-ion batteries charged by the biomass cogeneration facility.

A UK-based on-farm £12m (€13.8m) biogas plant was refused planning consent on appeal because it was too close to an abandoned house. The 7.37MW facility was being developed by J. Haig Hamilton and Sons, but the Scottish government turned it down mainly due to the impact it would have on neighbouring properties which could be reoccupied in the future.

The governments of Iran and the Czech Republic signed an agreement to develop an EfW plant. The facility will have a capacity of 20MWe and will be developed in Gilan on Iran’s northern coastline.

Estonian utility Eesti Energia began co-firing shredded tyres at its EfW plant in Iru. It had secured 5,000 tyres through a tender at the start of this year and tests carried out last summer showed no adverse environmental effects from the process.

Refood moved to add a new digester tank at its Widnes biogas-to-grid plant, increasing capacity by 33%. The £20m (€22.9m) plant currently treats 120,000t/yr of commercial and household food waste. This will now increase to 160,00t/yr making the plant the biggest in the UK, according to the company.

Gatwick Airport and delivery firm DHL announced the opening of their £3.8m (€4.3m) EfW plant in the airport. The facility will process low-grade wet food waste and organic food packaging such as napkins and plastic containers, known as international catering waste. A second EfW facility is also planned at Gatwick.

And finally...

Municipality Langeland Kommune plans to develop a seaweed-powered biogas facility. Currently in early development the plant would be fed with seaweed gathered on local beaches and a percentage of manure supplied via a pipeline connecting it with farms. A working group of local politicians and 24 businesses have so far established a supplier association, while an unnamed investor has put in DKK350,000 (€47,000), to finance further analyses of the plant’s viability.

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