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Gasification facing setbacks, including in Hull and Scotland

C Spencer Ltd obtained planning permission for a 225ktpa gasification plant in Hull back in October 2011 and was due to begin construction early this year, but the plans are said to be currently on hold.

The Hull Daily Mail reports that this is due to uncertainty regarding the level of Renewable Obligations Certifications subsidies that the facility would receive, and quotes Spencer as stating that: “Because of this we cannot complete our financial models for the project. A £20 million European Regional Development Fund grant, which we have applied for, is also dependent on the level of subsidy” [Source].

In other news, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) told the Sunday Herald that it would not grant an environmental permit for Scotgen’s 80-160ktpa gasification facility at Dovesdale Farmin until it received “key information to demonstrate the viability of the technology” in Dumfries.

This follows numerous problems at the Dargavel incinerator in Dumfriesshire. Sepa’s June 2012 site status report for Dargavel states that:

Since waste processing operations began in December 2009 until shut-down in April 2011, there were 45 noise complaints, 38 by-pass stack activations, ~200 reported emission limit breaches (mainly short term low temperature and O2 levels), two dioxin emission breaches and ~100 notifications of short term exceedances…

Since re-commissioning of the new boiler systems began, there have been 8 incidents recording low O2 levels in the SCC, 2 incidents recording low SCC exit temperatures, 10 by-pass stack activations, one Comms failure, one breach of permitted operational hours, one noise complaint (related to the early delivery of waste to site), one compliant of flies, one breach of the daily HCl limit and 24 notifications of short term ELV exceedances: 7 VOC / 9 CO / 8 HCl. [Source]

Many planning applications for gasification-type incinerators have been granted planning permission across the UK but have not been constructed, and some that have been constructed are not operational. This could primarily be a combination of two interrelated issues: a lack of funding and an unsurprising failure to get the technology to work.

While earlier gasification facilities may have relied heavily on Government subsidy from the New Technologies Demonstrator Programme, now they are more reliant on subsidies from ROCs. However, even if facilities were guaranteed a set rate of promised ROCs for the energy produced, one still cannot get that money without a fully functioning facility and sufficient waste to burn, and one can’t get private funding without convincing others that it is a good investment.

The issue of feedstock availability is not unique to gasification and affects all incinerators. Most municipal waste incinerators for household waste rely upon local authority contracts such as PFI with put-or-pay or minimum tonnage guarantees a facility to transfer this risk to the public sector, but that is generally not available to most merchant facilities and gasification plants. Former Veolia deputy CEO Peter Levett recently commented that: “Today, we see numerous merchant projects with sites with planning consent but no funding” [Source].

Eunomia’s National Residual Waste Infrastructure Review (Issue 2, May 2012) highlights the problem of incineration overcapacity:

Modelling of our central scenario suggests that the capacity gap between residual waste arisings and available treatment capacity will fall over time, decreasing from the current (2011/12) 19 million tonnes, and moving to a situation of overcapacity in GB of around 1.2 million tonnes in 2015/16… The extent of this overcapacity rises to almost 9.2 million tonnes in 2020/21. It should be acknowledged, however, that this does not include potential future capacity, which has not yet entered the planning system, and which may result in earlier overcapacity. This is a situation broadly reflected in our ‘high’ infrastructure scenario in which the onset of overcapacity is in the same year (2015/16) as in the central scenario, but at a higher level of around 6.6 million tonnes. Should a far lower level of capacity become operational, however, as reflected in our ‘low’ infrastructure scenario, it is possible that the onset of overcapacity will be delayed until 2017/18. [Source]

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