Minister’s plans for incinerator are not clear

The €100 million Poolbeg incinerator dilemma

‘The Minster failed to mention the incinerator in his speech, but if we are to believe everything he said regarding waste policy, then it is never going to happen,’ said Green party leader Eamon Ryan, Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

‘The Minster failed to mention the incinerator in his speech, but if we are to believe everything he said regarding waste policy, then it is never going to happen,’ said Green party leader Eamon Ryan, Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

This week at the Environment Ireland Conference new Minister for Environment Alan Kelly got tough on badly-behaved bin collection companies. In his first significant statement on the waste industry Mr Kelly said he was concerned about the number of enforcement actions the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities had to take against “large and high-profile collectors” and the failure of some companies to comply with their legal obligations in terms of service provision.

Responsibility for waste had been handed to the private sector, without giving the State adequate powers to regulate how services are provided and, Mr Kelly said, his preference was for “franchise bidding” where local authorities would tender for a waste collector for their area, and have “market power” through setting the terms and conditions of the contract.

Mr Kelly warned waste collectors they were in the “last-chance saloon” and unless they cleaned up their acts he will introduce such a market structure.

He didn’t mention the Poolbeg incinerator, recently passed for construction by the National Development Finance Agency, but the Green Party chose to interpret his comments as a blow against the development of the plant.

“The Minster failed to mention the incinerator in his speech, but if we are to believe everything he said regarding waste policy, then it is never going to happen,” party leader Eamon Ryan said. “It is time for the Minister to show some leadership and stop the four city and county managers in their tracks.”

Plans for the incinerator have been around since the 1990s, so clearly Mr Kelly is not the first Minister for the Environment asked to intervene in the issue. One of his recent predecessors was the Green’s John Gormley.

Viable future

Another interpretation of Mr Kelly’s remarks would be that they signal a viable future for the incinerator.

It was Dublin City Council, the co-developers of the plant with private company Covanta, who originally put forward the idea of franchise bidding for waste collection.

The council in 2011 told then environment minister Phil Hogan it wanted to exit the waste collection market, but retain control by putting the collection of waste in its area out to tender, subject to certain conditions, which could make the Poolbeg facility “bankable”.

Mr Hogan did not choose to go ahead with the franchise plan and the council exited the waste market anyway, selling to Greyhound in December 2011.

Council management has yet to make a final decision on whether to go ahead with the plant. The vast majority of councillors don’t want it, but their views don’t count, nor truly do those of Mr Kelly. It’s up to Dublin city chief executive Owen Keegan and his counterparts in the other Dublin local authorities to decide if they want to call a halt and absorb the €100 million of public money already spent on the unbuilt plant.