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Energy-from-waste: democratic processes need a chance to operate at a local level

12th March 2013 Posted by

Listening to the recent panel response on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, elicited a ray of hope that the public discussion surrounding energy-from-waste is becoming more sophisticated. The question was asked as to whether the proposed waste incinerator at Javelin Park in Gloucestershire was “a blot on the landscape or a necessary step towards an ecologically sustainable environment”. The panel generally acknowledged the practical limitations of recycling, and the sensible option of extracting energy from residual waste. A poll of the audience showed a majority in favour of the principle, but a majority against the specific proposal.

But scratch the surface, and the green shoots of reasoned debate begin to wither.  Energy-from-waste appears as politicised an issue as ever. One Gloucestershire Member of Parliament claims that the proposal “is costly and unsustainable and actively harms recycling. We need to say no to it in Gloucestershire and across the UK”, while another from an opposing party regards the project as a sensible idea if properly designed and consulted upon.

More worrying was the remark from one parliamentarian that the proposal was flawed because it did not meet EU standards – a perplexing claim given that the Environment Agency was minded in principle to grant the project an operating permit. It appears to originate from a report prepared for a campaign group, which opines (without justification) that “the proposal potentially breaches EU law”. The report also states that “the proposed incinerator is so inefficient that it qualifies not as an energy recovery facility but as a waste disposal option, on a par with landfill” – a claim that is contradicted in the Environment Agency’s permit determination: “we consider it likely that the proposed plant design will meet the … criteria for the plant to be considered as a ‘recovery’ operation”.

Clearly, we have a long way to go in the UK before the bare technical facts underpinning a project can be accepted as common ground by proponents and opponents alike. Given the mischievous and occasionally willful attempts to bend technical information to the cause at hand, and the speed with which spurious pronouncements can circulate and be mouthed as gospel truth, the joint publication by Defra, DECC and the Welsh Government of its Energy from Waste Guide is to be welcomed. It is factual, has no particular axe to grind, and will hopefully be placed in a prominent position in the library of the Houses of Parliament.

Above all, we have yet to devise an effective planning regime that gives democratic processes a chance to operate at local level without being elbowed out by those who shout the loudest.

One comment on "Energy-from-waste: democratic processes need a chance to operate at a local level"

  • The days of large wasteful mass-burn incinerators should be over. In Gloucestershire the plan is for a 190,000 tonne per year mass burn incinerator when the county are producing far less residual municapal waste. C&I waste will not go to such an expensive burner when sorting, recycling and producing RDF for power stations is far cheaper. We need to stop councils being locked into these long contracts that undermine recycling for next 30 years.

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