EWB Insight report: August 2022

This month: EfW developers need to accept call-ins as part of planning process, low fines are encouraging waste criminals, more ‘wildcat’ strikes could hit facility builds, and Copehagen will miss 2025 carbon neutral target due to EfW missing out on CCS funding

Call-ins becoming the norm for EfW developments 

Another month and another EfW plant has been granted planning consent, but with the caveat that a “third party” had asked for the government to consider calling in the project. 

The EfW project itself is planned for Reading Quarry, a site which has in recent years been used for waste management with previous planning permissions allowing various activities. 

West Berkshire Council’s planning meeting voted eight in favour and one against the development, showing overall local support for the scheme, which could make the area self-sufficient in terms of waste processing. 

However, the call-in process throws another level of concern over the consenting process for project developers by adding an extra layer of uncertainty to projects. 

The way the system works is that a “third party” – usually a local MP – asks the relevant government minister to consider the need for the facility. As a result, if the plant is consented at the local level, there’s another level for it to pass through. 

While in practice the call in process has rarely derailed a project and most are not actually called in by the government. 

The most high-profile downfall of a project involving a call-in was Cory Environmental and Wheelabrator’s King’s Lynn-based facility. Plans for the plant were ditched in 2014 when the government failed to rule on the project, leaving it effectively in limbo. 

More recently, the call-in process was used twice during the planning process for Uniper’s development of an EfW plant at its Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station. But both attempts were dismissed

The Wiltshire-based Northacre Renewable Energy Ltd (NREL) EfW development has also faced and overcome two call-in attempts – once as a gasification equipped plant and once with a grate-based system.  

However, the plant is currently appealing to the government, citing lack of determination by the local authority after the project was not decided on in April. 

Added to this, projects in Scotland and Wales, due to moratoriums on large-scale EfW plants in both countries, already face a call-in process with the government having the final say on projects.  

Policy update 

Fines imposed on criminals exporting waste are so low they are actually encouraging more refuse to be moved illegally, according to an industry leader. Andusia director and EWB editorial panel member, Steve Burton said the enforcement system needed a rethink after the Environment Agency (EA) published news of a £1,200 fine for a director of the now dissolved Berry Polymer Ltd. Burton told EWB: “The fines don’t put people off at all, indeed they are encouraged to actually go large, as the penalties are generally only 10% or less of the criminal proceeds, so no point in dabling and getting caught, you may as well do it on a large scale, because they are only in this business once.” 

EfW plants supplied with UK waste are facing a potentially “short week” as exports are hit by strike action at the port of Felixstowe. Trade union Unite confirmed the eight-day action started yesterday at the port, which deals with 48% of the UK’s containerised shipments. Workers at other UK ports, such as Liverpool, are also looking at industrial action, according to Unite. 

The European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, an Italian scheme to increase biomethane production with €4.5m of support. The plans were put forward by Italy’s government and form part of the country’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependency on Russian fossil fuels and increase its share of renewable energies.

The German government has backed green groups’ calls to end subsidies for burning high-value wood under the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED III). Junior farming minister Manuela Rottmann confirmed the government’s position in a letter to German campaign group NABU.

The UK government confirmed a “call for submission” for biomass-processing projects wanting to take part in the first track of its carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) cluster process. The UK launched the call for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) projects to enter track one of the project submission process. Majority biomass-fired power plant Drax welcomed the move, saying it was “consistent with our ambition for deploying BECCS at Drax Power Station in the 2020s”. 

The UK government revealed funding totalling £37m (€44.2m) is to be given to several projects involving biomass-based feedstock and hydrogen production. £32m (€38.2m) of the funding would be to “increase UK production of sustainable biomass”, while a further £5m (€5.9m) would support “innovative new technologies… to generate hydrogen from biomass and waste”. 

The UK government also launched a consultation on how to support the development of biomass energy generation with associated carbon capture in the UK over the next decade. Known as BECCS, the technology generates energy from biomass while storing the carbon released in the process through carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technology. It offers the potential to produce energy with negative emissions. 

The UK government launched a consultation on suspending new demands placed on wood pellets processed for heat that were due to make the sector less polluting. The move was needed due to a ban on supplies from Russia and Belarus, the UK said. Specifically, the government is proposing a 12-month suspension of the fuel quality requirement under the ENplus scheme that pellets must meet the ENplus A1 standard under the UK’s renewable heat incentive (RHI) for both domestic and non-domestic users. 

Local authorities in Scotland can still issue planning permission for new EfW facilities, says Scotland’s circular economy minister Lorna Slater, despite the government saying it did not support further such developments. Slater reportedly told MSPs that although the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is unable to issue permits, if a facility does not have planning permission, planning authorities can alert Scottish ministers of new planning applications that involve EfW facilities and notify Scottish ministers “if they are minded to grant planning permission to such facilities”.

Several EfW projects in the UK could be set to receive government support to implement carbon capture technologies. The government announced 20 shortlisted projects that will be progressed to funding support for carbon capture as part of the cluster sequencing process. These include the Tees Valley EfW project, which is being developed by seven partner authorities in north-east England, Viridor’s Runcorn EfW CCS venture and the Protos EfW facility, in development and due to be operated by Covanta Europe.

Market update 

Construction of EfW and biomass-processing plants could be hit by further wildcat strikes as workers’ anger over pay continues. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source told EWB that more such unsanctioned strikes could take place by unionised workers unhappy with pay deals. In recent weeks, the delayed biomass-processing MGT Teesside facility has been hit by a wildcat strike with other actions reported, although the nature of the strikes make them hard to follow.

Court papers revealed allegations that three former directors of the UK-based arm of M+W Group secured deals to build EfW plants at prices that left the business £320m (€380m) out of pocket. MW High Tech Project UK Ltd, a subsidiary of M+W Germany GmbH and member of the M+W Group, raises several allegations with its former directors including that they breached their duties and obligations by signing deals to build the facilities. The court papers concern contracts for work on Suez’s Surrey-based Eco Park project, the Levenseat Project in Lanarkshire and Energy Works (Hull) in Yorkshire – all of which featured waste-gasification technology. 

A deadline for a firm offer to be made for UK waste management firm Biffa has been extended by 28 days from the original deadline of 30 August. Biffa said discussions were “continuing” with a potential suitor, US-based investor Energy Capital Partners (ECP). 

Biffa also published its full-year results for 2022 showing losses were cut to £8.3m (€9.9m), down from a loss of £37.6m (€45m) in the previous reporting period. The company also came through the covid pandemic revealing its underlying industrial and commercial waste collection volumes were “slightly ahead of pre-pandemic levels”.

Anaerobic digestion giant Nature Energy was linked with a possible sale, although the company and its current owners have not commented on the reports. “People familiar with the matter” says potential businesses eyeing a move are oil giants BP and Shell and investment funds BlackRock, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and EQT. Nature Energy is Denmark’s largest biogas producer and is still growing, was bought in early 2018 by a group containing investors UK-based Pioneer Point Partners and US-based Davidson Kempner along with Danish pension fund Sampension

The UK arm of waste management business Veolia agreed to sell Suez’s UK-based waste business for €2.4bn (£2bn) to investor Macquarie Asset Management. The agreement is subject to the approval of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is currently investigating whether Veolia should be allowed to take over Suez. 

However in a related move, Suez itself said while it “took due note” of the Veolia and Macquarie deal, it still had an “interest in the potential acquisition of its former R&R [recycling and recovery] assets in the UK”. Suez also said it has “right of first refusal” over the acquisition and has 30 business days from when Veolia notifies about the sale to launch a deal “with terms and conditions equivalent to the ones proposed by Macquarie”.

Local authority-owned waste management company Arc21 issued a tender for “services related to the treatment and energy recovery/disposal of residual waste arisings”. A potential contract is worth up to £970m (€1.1bn) and involves four lots. 

The tender has been launched as Arc21 awaits the outcome of a judicial review of the refusal of plans to build an energy-from-waste plant for it. The proposed EfW plant would be based at Hightown Quarry and is being developed by the Belgium-based Indaver-led Becon Consortium.

Norway-based waste aggregator Geminor says it set a “company record” for the amount of waste it handled for both energy recovery and recycling in July in figures issued in August. Geminor handled more than 46,000t, up 75% compared with July last year, where it dealt with 26,400t. 10,393t went to UK-based facilities, while the majority at 35,885t was exported. 

Australia-based infrastructure investor Palisade Real Assets acquired Eco2 Management Services, a UK-based renewable energy asset manager and developer, as it looks to create a bioenergy platform focused on biogas assets. Palisade says the acquisition – for an undisclosed sum – will help fast track its energy investment ambitions in the UK and Europe, and underpin the platform it is planning to develop.

In a related development, Palisade Real Assets then snapped up a small-scale biogas plant in the UK. It bought 100% of Malaby Biogas, which is the owner of an anaerobic digestion technology plant in Wiltshire that was commissioned in 2012. It can process up to 17,000t/yr of food waste a year and has a capacity of 0.5MWe.

Bristol-based waste management business McCarthy Marland completed a takeover of the owners of Aasvogel Skip Hire and Valley Trading. It completed a “multi-million-pound deal” for Salvidge Holdings, but did not give a precise figure for the takeover. 

Facilities update: EfW

The city of Copenhagen abandoned plans to be carbon neutral by 2025 after the city’s ski slope-equipped Amager Bakke EfW plant revealed it was unable to gain financial support to develop carbon capture technology. Earlier in August, the municipality of Copenhagen-owned ARC, which runs the EfW plant, confirmed it was unable to meet the Danish government’s current criteria to qualify for financial support to develop carbon capture technology, which in turn derailed the city’ long-held carbon neutrality ambition. 

Nearly 500 additional homes and a primary school are among the buildings to be heated by an under-construction Ness EfW plant, which now has funding to move ahead. Aberdeen City Council said the Scottish government’s Heat Network Fund had agreed a £5.6m (€6.5m) grant for the second-phase of its planned-heating system, to cover nearly 500 additional homes. The facility is currently due to be fully operational by the “end of 2022 or start of 2023”.

Viridor revealed emissions from its Beddington-based EfW facility have remained within limits for the past two reporting periods. In July it emerged that the Local authority-owned South London Waste Partnership (SLWP) would apply contractual penalties to Viridor over a series of emissions in May and June. However, the figure for July and most recently for the first half of August show no exceedances of the facility’s permitting emission levels. 

Waste aggregator Andusia revealed that its deal to process waste for Britaniacrest Recycling has been extended by a further year as the latter company also continues to develop its own EfW plant. The extension to the deal will see almost 20,000t exported to the Netherlands. The EfW project itself secured a draft environmental permit earlier this year, which it expects to be formalised in the autumn.

Local authority North Ayrshire Council approved a proposal to modify conditions for a waste transfer station in Irvine to increase the type and quantity of waste it takes. The planning application by waste company Enva Scotland, allowed the company to increase the quantity of waste stored at the site at any one time from 600t to 2,000t and to include Sunday working between 8am and 4pm, bringing the planning permission in line with the waste management licence.

Facilities update: Biomass 

Ireland-based waste management company Beauparc confirmed a deal to buy Northern Ireland-based biomass-fired plant owner Tyrone Energy. Beauparc said the Tyrone-based business was the owner of a biomass-fired plant with a production capacity of 2.1MWe, which can process up to 25,000t/yr of waste wood, which is mainly diverted from being landfilled. No value for the deal was given in the statement, but Tyrone Energy’s website states the facility “is a £9.5m (€11.2m) investment in renewable energy located at a site in the village of Artigarvan near Strabane”.

Local authority the Vale of Glamorgan Council confirmed the long-awaited environmental statement (ES) for Aviva’s Barry-based biomass-gasification plant had been published. Its publication was delayed to allow time to “redact the documents” in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, the council said. The ES is the crucial element of an appeal by Aviva against an enforcement notice by the same council that the facility should be demolished. This was because it was built as a mirror image of the consented plant and controversially without an ES. 

Uniper raised the book value of its 1GWe Maasvlakte coal plant, commissioned in 2016, by €556m following the Dutch government’s announcement of a set of energy security measures that included lifting the 2022-24 cap on electricity generation by coal plants. The Maasvlakte reversal was announced in Uniper’s latest half-year financial report. The plant, which was commissioned in 2016, was designed right from the planning phase to allow co-firing with up to 50% biomass alongside coal.

Utility company Skellefteå Kraft revealed plans to build a biomass-fired plant equipped with carbon capture technology. The Skellefteå-based company is currently seeking contractors interested in taking on the front-end engineering design (FEED) study for the project. Skellefteå Kraft’s largest biomass plant, which is located in Hedensbyn, has capacities of 35.6MWe and 62.9MWth. It can process about 200,000t/yr of wood pellets made from biomass residues. 

Facilities update: Biogas 

Water company United Utilities was refused a variation to its environmental permit covering a site’s already operational biogas-producing activities. The EA confirmed it had refused the variation request for the Blackburn wastewater treatment works in Samlesbury, Lancashire. Documents reveal the “purpose of the application” was to allow the site to accept more than 2.6Mt/yr of wet raw sludge produced at the water works and “imported sewage sludges”. The refusal documents state that despite the applicant having “ample opportunity”, the EA did not consider the business had satisfactorily responded to its concerns.

Canada-based Anaergia struck a deal to supply CO2 from its Tønder-based biogas plant to Danish infrastructure developer European Energy. Anaergia said CO2 produced by the facility would go to European Energy where it would be used to produce e-methanol for sale to shipping companies. Under the deal up to 60,000t/yr of liquefied biogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) would be supplied under the ten-year contract. 

Local authority Lancashire County Council approved a plan to continue landfilling at the Deerplay landfill site near Burnley until the end of December 2029, which is equipped with landfill gas collection equipment. The landfill’s owner, FCC, won planning consent to extend the use of the 14-hectare site, which was due to stop at the end of this year. Earlier this year, FCC said it was rolling out plans to install microgeneration equipment at its landfill sites across the UK, after a successful trial at the Deerplay site. 

Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) revealed three facilities owned by investment fund Bio Capital had achieved accreditation under its AD Certification Scheme (ADCS). The plants were the Scotland-based Barkip Biogas and Energen Biogas facilities and the England-based Warrens Emerald Biogas site. The three facilities join another Bio Capital plant, the Northern Ireland-based Granville Ecopark, which achieved accreditation only six weeks after the scheme was launched. 

Utility company VEKS told the market it plans to sign a biogas-engine supply deal with Austria-based Innio Jenbacher. The Denmark-based company confirmed its biogas engine takes supplies from Solrød Biogas. However the engine, which is located at Solrød’s heating plant and owned by VEKS, “is considered to have reached its end of life” and must be replaced. The notice explains the deal is worth DKK5m (€672,111) and that Innio is the “only player on the market who can supply” the necessary equipment.

A public inquiry into rejected plans for a large-scale biogas plant in Keynsham is due to be held this October following an appeal by the developer. Earlier this year, Bath and North East Somerset Council turned down a consent for a 92,000t/yr anaerobic digestion (AD) plant proposed by Resourceful Earth Anaerobic Limited (REAL) at the Queen Charlton Quarry site.

Finnish and Swiss-owned Ductor signed an agreement with Sweden-based CA Cedergren to develop a biogas-producing plant. CA Cedergren is Sweden’s largest egg producer and the pair had agreed to build a biogas plant to process chicken manure in Mönsterås, Sweden. However, the pair did not give tonnages for the facility, but did explain the plant would be operational in 2024. 

Anaerobic digestion plant developer Green Forty Development (GDF) won an appeal over the initial refusal of its plans to expand a consented biogas-producing facility to take more than 77,500t/yr it was originally allowed to. A planning inspector overturned the initial call of local authority East Lothian Council to refuse permission for the plant to expand to take 100,000t/yr in total.

Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova announced a new deal to upgrade biogas produced at a facility in Gråsten to biomethane. Farm-based KW Energi wanted to upgrade its “existing biogas plant to generate energy more flexibly in response to market demand”. The plant is due to start sending biomethane to the grid “as early as the end of November” and will have a biogas upgrading capacity of 900m³/h.

UK-based Acorn Bioenergy faces local opposition to its plans to build what has been described as the UK’s “largest anaerobic digester plant”. The project, which is still in the early stages of the planning process, is reported as being able to produce as much 100GW a year, although this is not confirmed by the developer. 

Local authority-owned Nottingham City Transport (NCT) revealed a further 23 biogas-powered buses have joined its 120-strong fleet. The company said it had invested £7m (€8.3m) in the 23 new buses, which had joined what is said was the world’s largest such fleet of double-decker vehicles. Although not mentioned in the statement, NCT has previously said it sources its biogas through UK-based business Roadgas. The company also supplies energy-from-waste plant operator Veolia in Sheffield and local authority Leeds City Council.

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