Fears for efforts on low-carbon energyUnited Kingdom
Jim Pickard and Fiona Harvey
Attempts to generate low-carbon energy by burning rubbish have been hamstrung by local authorities, which have rejected numerous applications for such projects, according to data from one of Britain’s biggest waste companies.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Sita UK, warned that even more applications were likely to be rejected under the coalition’s new planning regime.
Figures produced for the Financial Times by Sita show that only 35 out of 68 applications made in 2007-2009 for such energy from waste schemes have been approved. The remaining 33 were either refused or still pending a decision, even in many authorities where the projects have been approved by councils’ own planning officers.
Waste-to-energy incinerators are unpopular with some environmental groups, which claim they divert waste from higher-value treatments, such as recycling, and that they produce more carbon dioxide than gas-fired power stations. Among local communities there are often fears about airborne pollution from incineration plants.
However, supporters of energy-from-waste argue that it solves two problems at once, addressing both Britain’s need for alternative power sources and the fact that the country is running out of landfill sites for rubbish. They also contend that modern incineration plants do not produce airborne pollution.
Energy-from-waste currently accounts for just 3 per cent of all of Britain’s alternative energy, but the Institute of Mechanical Engineers estimates that 15-20 per cent of Britain’s entire energy needs could come from waste.
As well as burning rubbish directly, companies are also seeking to build “biomass digester” plants that convert organic waste into methane, which can be used as a fuel.
Executives across the energy industry have warned that the scrapping of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission – designed to fast-track big energy and transport projects – could stymie many schemes.
Mr Palmer-Jones said that without the IPC there would be “no strategic overview of waste facilities”, with councils more likely to reject schemes.
“There is a real difficulty of having locally elected councillors on short-term three-year periods making decisions on strategic direction covering 25 years,” he told the FT.
Waste companies are seeking alternatives to landfill because the coalition government has stuck with plans to increase landfill taxes annually. Under European Union law, the the amount of household waste sent to landfill must go down to just 35 per cent of the 1995 level by 2020.
Within government, there is also confusion over who should have the final say on this issue. While planning comes under the Department of Communities and Local Government, and energy comes under the Department of Energy and Climate Change, waste and waste treatment – including energy extraction – is dealt with by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
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