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Controversy burns over Acciona’s £680m incinerator contract

15 Dec 21 The North London Waste Authority meets tomorrow (16th December 2021) to award a £683m contract to Spanish company Acciona to replace the Edmonton incinerator.

Extinction Rebellion activists blockaded the waste facility in north London on Monday morning (Source: Twitter)
Extinction Rebellion activists blockaded the waste facility in north London on Monday morning (Source: Twitter)

Award of the contract is proving a flashpoint of controversy, with local residents fearing fume nuisance and environmental (and other) activists blockading the Edmonton waste-to-energy park, called the EcoPark, in north London this week.

The existing waste incinerator at Edmonton is 50 years old. Acciona Industrial was shortlisted for the contract to rebuild it in October 2020, alongside French contractor CNIM and Hitachi Zosen Inova of Switzerland.  The project also includes a £100m investment in recycling facilities.

Edmonton’s Energy Recovery Facility, which will be capable of generating up to 78 MW of electricity, will be the first in the UK to use selective catalytic reduction and will use a combined wet/dry flue gas cleaning system to make it one of the cleanest incinerators in the country, the North London Waste Authority (NWLA) says.

The NWLA board meets on Thursday to approve the award of the contract to Acciona.

However, opponents say that the incinerator will pollute the air with nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, hydrogen chloride, dioxins, furans, heavy metals, and particulate matter. They say that it promotes waste creation instead of recycling. And they say that the energy produced by the incinerator is inefficient.

Organisations lined up against the plans include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, the Camden Civic Society, Black Lives Matter, the Zero Carbon Campaign and numerous residents’ groups.

On the morning of Monday this week (13th December 2021), a group of protesters blocked entrance points at the EcoPark. The EcoPark receives black-bin-bag waste collected by the seven north London boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest. NLWA manages disposal through a company it wholly owns, London Energy Ltd.

NLWA chair Cllr Clyde Loakes said on Monday: "Today’s protests highlight the very problem that NLWA is tasked with tackling: how to deal with the results of never-ending, unsustainable consumption. Every minute, every hour of every day, Londoners are cramming their bins to the brim. By 10am today, hundreds of tonnes of waste had already been collected from north Londoners’ homes by thousands of our colleagues. Our staff, who are essential workers, are now having to divert their focus from dealing with this black-bin-bag, contaminated waste in the most hygienic and environmentally responsible way possible to handling logistics to safely divert all this rubbish to alternative locations. This will greatly increase lorry movements on borough roads, causing unnecessary environmental impact.

"Sadly, what the protesters might not realise is that much of this waste will need to be sent to landfill where it will rot. This is the worst possible outcome because waste in landfill releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, which has a warming impact up to 34 times greater than CO₂. It’s ironic too that this action is impacting the construction of the state-of-the-art £100m recycling facilities now happening on site, that we in north London so desperately need, if we are to achieve recycling levels of 50% plus.

"NLWA has frequently pointed out that it is only with systemic change implemented by government and business that we can stop the trashing of precious resources.

"We are urging the government to make recycling compulsory, to ban many more unecological products such as single-use, unrecyclable plastics, and to massively reduce the dumping of waste in landfill among a raft of measures.

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"In terms of our existing energy-from-waste plant, it is over 50 years old and has reached the end of its operational life. It is our duty to protect public health from unhygienic waste, so we are building a new facility with the highest possible environmental standards to deal with black-bin-bags. We will utilise the energy generated to provide electricity for up to 127,000 homes and heat and hot water for up to 50,000 homes, meaning no gas boilers.

"The new facility will be among the most advanced in the world and use selective catalytic reduction technology to convert the nitrogen oxide created by incinerating the waste to create energy, into water and nitrogen (which is a harmless gas that makes up 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere).

"It will also save the equivalent of 215,000 tonnes of CO₂ each year – which is as beneficial as taking 111,000 cars off the road – compared to sending the waste to rot in landfill.

"NLWA is also ensuring that the facility will be able to install carbon capture and storage, as soon as the technology becomes viable, which will see the facility preventing carbon emissions in the future.”

While the regional Trades Union Congress has aligned itself to opponents of the new plant, having passed a motion for a pause and review of the incinerator plans, the GMB union is urging councillors to hold their nerve and go ahead with the build.

Michael Ainsley,  GMB regional officer for engineering construction, said "The North London Waste Authority already manages about a quarter of all the rubbish and recycling in London. This new incinerator is much cleaner than the one it is replacing and it turns waste into energy. GMB London is urging the local authorities involved to press on with the project.

“As well as protecting the environment and helping with the climate, the building and subsequent operation of a new incinerator will provide many good quality well paid jobs and apprenticeships for local people.”

He added: “GMB is eager to ensure a clean stable environment for our members and their children, but we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water if we delay or scrap this project, ever increasing levels of waste will continue to be put into landfill and find its way into our rivers and oceans."

However, opponents to the scheme say that incineration is an inefficient, carbon intensive, way to create energy – even more than burning traditional fossil fuels. They argue that recycling plastic waste is actually a better way to recover energy, as the energy saved by not needing to extract fossil fuels and create new plastics is more than that which can be gained from burning it.

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