I admit that in the last two articles regarding Energy from Waste (EfW) I ranted quite a bit. It is hard not to rant when you work in this field in New South Wales. Logic, facts and science seem to have neither the meaning nor the pull they have in normal life. Cognitive dissonance, here we come …
Waste management is a very political business. In fact, it thrives (or not) depending on the policy settings.
Given the fact that the NSW Government officially supports EfW as part of the toolbox the waste hierarchy has to offer, and given the mess the policy, the Inquiry into The Next Generation facility and the change in the policy settings about locations has created, the NSW government should take a more active role.
Why? Because if it doesn’t, there will be no EfW facility in NSW for another six to eight years and by then there will be a crisis in waste management in the state. There will not be enough landfill left either (unless you accept a monopoly being a solution).
How could the government go about it? There are a number of ways, but one thing is certain, the policy settings need to change. What could the government do? It can take away the unwarranted fears of concerned citizens and set an example by building a best practice project that other projects then have to live up to.
Here is how it could start: either NSW Procurement, the procurement arm of the state government would initiate the procurement process or a Regional Organisation of Councils (ROC) could ask NSW Procurement to act on their behalf. The NSW government needs to provide the resources for such an infrastructure project. In the end it is no different to building a desalination plant or a major highway.
The state government procures a location and gets a masterplan approved for an industry park with an EfW facility at the centre.
Ideally, that master plan also includes an anaerobic digestion plant and an enclosed composting plant to provide infrastructure for future FOGO (food organics and garden organics) processing, both sorely needed. That location could be in Sydney (maybe the old Shell refinery?) or somewhere else.
The state government should run the project as what it really is: an opportunity to create a utility, create employment and provide essential infrastructure for the community in an innovative, energy efficient way.
The government shouldn’t let this be ambushed by people ranting about pollution because that is not what this is about. Have you heard of people getting sick in Paris, London, Berlin or Vienna from EfW related pollution?
The story is also about dealing with the (residual) waste where it is generated. How about taking some responsibility for a change?
Next step is the state government procures a technology provider that is willing and able to build, operate and maintain the facility for 25 years; who knows what they are doing (they have a good track record) and wraps the risk of engineering, procurement and construction so as to enable finance.
The state government would then procure the supply of suitable residual waste for 25 years, either from a ROC or via tender from councils and commercial collectors.
A tender would be called for off-takers (consumers) of energy in all its various forms — high grade heat, low grade heat, cooling and electricity.
The energy off-takers would settle in the industry park to shorten the distance the energy has to travel, making the project highly efficient. The energy would be sold at a discount to market rates under long-term agreements. Why? To attract the energy users, and because the main income source would be the gate fee. Securing the energy off-take also helps securing the finance.
An agreement would be struck with several research and development organisations, including universities, to attract and foster designs to eliminate waste, making materials re-useable indefinitely, or in other words to mimic nature.
How to finance the R&D? A levy is put on every tonne of waste treated in the EfW facility. The waste levy is increased by the same amount to keep the cost differential between landfill and EfW at the current level, at least.
The EfW levy is hypothecated to two purposes: R&D as well as the decommissioning, demolition or deconstruction of the EfW facility at the end of its life and the restitution of the site. A nice side effect of the EfW levy is that other — higher order — recycling facilities will not attract the levy, thus making EfW relatively less attractive for materials of value. This will require careful structuring and advice.
The licence would be limited to 25 years after commissioning, so that the facility has to stop operating at the expiry date; it can be extended by two five-year terms only, if and when the facility upgrades to best available technology to reduce its environmental impact and increase its efficiency. Each upgrade and extension of licence has to be approved.
The “like waste” guideline requirement needs to go into the bin. It is unnecessary and a risk burden. What is needed are appropriate limitations and controls of the emissions. We already have those.
The facility should be designed so that it doesn’t look like an industrial complex. There are plenty of examples; see the facilities in Vienna, Copenhagen or Paris. Good architecture is not only pleasing to the eye, it also takes away fear. The skin of the facility can be designed to generate solar energy.
Once the EfW facility described above is commissioned, the state government should sell it to recycle its capital. It will very likely make a decent profit, because it has removed the projects’ risks to a large extent. At the same time, it will have set an example of how EfW can operate.
Possible, you ask? Absolutely.
What is required is political will. The rest will follow.
Alas, therein lies the problem. Seen any political will around, lately, anyone?