Topical Debate: Poolbeg Incinerator

It is 15 years since the incinerator at Poolbeg was first proposed – this saga has run on for the same amount of time as the Mahon Tribunal.

The contract which was in review stage was to expire at the end of February, but a further extension was given until the 31st of August. Over €80 million has already been spent on a project that as proposed is way too big for our waste market – that’s over €5 million a year. Dublin City Council plans to spend a further €9 million this year buying land and on consultant fees.

I welcome the news that the Local Government Audit service will provide a full report on the cost exposure for the state to the PAC, but it is too little, and too late – the money has been spent, and a bad contract allowed to continue.

The original contract was to build a 600,000 tonne incinerator which is way too big for our current and projected future needs. A put or pay clause was inserted that means DCC have to provide 320,000 tonnes a year to the incinerator or face fines estimated at up to €350 million.

This has left citizens of this country exposed to fines for a contract they had no role in through their democratically elected representatives, who were shut out of the process whilst public servants try to cover their past mistakes by changing current laws.

The council can no longer deliver waste to this monster, so instead a law change to rejig the waste market has been proposed to end side by side competition and make the Council the owner of the waste stream which is constitutionally dubious. This uncertainty is putting private sector investment and jobs at risk.

Instead of jumping through these hoops we should scrap the project and bring certainty at last to the waste market.

I welcome the move by Joseph McCarthy and Valerie Jennings to file a complaint at the EU commission about this contract because it clear that DCC have breached EU Public Procurement Directives in the way they have awarded the contract for Poolbeg to Covanta.

Waste Market: EPA National Waste report showed that our recycling rate is 40%, 46% in Dublin alone, and that the volume going to landfill has fallen since 2009 by 13%. It is estimated that there is enough national landfill capacity for 12 years, so there is no urgency on the Poolbeg incinerator, nor is there the required volume to feed it. Over 650,000 tonnes of private waste recovery infrastructure has come online in the last 2-3 years which alone exceeds the tonnage of the Poolbeg project.

According to a report from SLR for the Irish Waste Management Association shows that we will comfortably reach our 2013 and 2016 targets for diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill so we will not be facing levies on that. Roll out of brown bins is still below 50% in Dublin and recovery nationally increased by 3% in 2010 alone.

About 900,000 tonnes of waste going to landfill is compostable so a much better use of money would be to encourage reuse rather than incineration.Even if we did face EU fines it is dwarfed by the huge and unnecessary waste of money on poolbeg and the potential fines due to the put or pay clause. It is clear that private waste contractors will challenge any attempt to place ownership of the waste stream in the hands of Councils.

Everywhere that side by side competition has been replaced with tendered routes it has resulted in a less efficient and more expensive service for homeowners. We should encourage more competition, not limit it.