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The absurdity of other countries building EfW plants for UK waste

Many of us have spent small fortunes developing our energy businesses, be it wind, wave, nuclear new build, decommissioning or waste and recycling. The rate at which projects are coming to market is disappointing to say the least. 

Funding, planning, protester action and affordability issues continually frustrate the procurement progress and seem to provide sufficient options for decision makers to do nothing, or procrastinate at best.

That said, one area of the energy market that does seem to be making relatively good progress is the Energyfrom Waste (EfW) sector. While its had its fair share of preconstruction problems it has to be said that, when built and operational, these are sophisticated machines which deal very effectively with an increasing UK waste problem. I have visited several plants and have been surprised at how impressive they are. Architecturally, the appearance of some of them is spectacular. They wouldn’t be out of place on the Olympic Park. Operationally, there’s no odour, noise, dust or traffic congestion despite the fact that some plants are in urban areas.You drive away thinking, what’s all the fuss about? – this is vital infrastructure built for the 21st century and every county in the land should have one.

At last we’re doing something to catch up with other European countries in avoiding landfill, and generating electricity from waste. Unfortunately though, we’re not catching up fast enough.

The number of constructed plants, and those in the planning and under-construction phase will not be sufficient to serve the UK’s needs – the net effect is that we will continue to send our waste to the likes of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. It’s absurd that these countries are building new plants to accommodate our waste.

There seems to be disinformation around about overcapacity in the UK, which in turn is stagnating the industry. The UK is therefore missing an opportunity to develop EfW plants and we are losing investment and employment opportunities in the UK.

It’s hard to believe how complicated our planning and procurement processes have been allowed to become. Waste infrastructure procurement periods can take many years thanks to the complexity of the processes we follow; granting permits, overturning decisions, government call-ins, reducing or removing PFI credits, legal challenges… we’re losing the plot. When you see these plants in operation you think “why weren’t they built decades ago? After all, we wouldn’t consider not building adequate waste water plants in the UK. Double standards methinks.

  • Dave Williams is sector director for energy at Taylor Woodrow

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