Only three operational energy-from-waste plants in England have achieved R1 status for energy efficiency meaning they can be officially classed as ‘recovery’ rather than disposal facilities, according to data released by Defra.
A list published by the Department under a Freedom of Information Request last month shows that Veolia’s facility at Newhaven in East Sussex, Cory’s Riverside Resource centre in London and SITA’s Teesside energy from waste plant are the only operational plants to have achieved formal accreditation from the Environment Agency.
Six further plants at design stage have been deemed likely to achieve the status, although one of these – Willows in Norfolk – has been abandoned, and another, at New Barnfield, has failed to achieve planning permission.
In a letter accompanying the list, Defra was keen to stress that “the majority of EfW plants in England would meet the R1 designation were they to formally apply to the EA”, explaining that there was no requirement to apply and not all plants sought this.
Only facilities which import waste are required to meet the formula, which is not the case for UK plants.
The R1 formula is set out in the EU Waste Framework Directive and is a performance indicator for the level of energy recovered from waste. It is based on factors including the energy produced by a plant and the energy contained in the waste. Where the value of R1 is calculated as being greater than 0.65 the process can be classed as a recovery rather than a disposal operation, placing it higher up the waste hierarchy (see table). It is designed to incentivise municipal solid waste incinerators to improve their energy recovery performance.
The list of R1 plants, which originates from the Environment Agency, shows which plants have achieved the R1 classification at design stage and also those currently achieving it. Those deemed to have achieve it at design stage include the now abandoned Norfolk EfW project and Veolia’s New Barnfield EfW, which has been refused planning permission.
While many existing plants have not applied for R1 status as they already have contracts and planning permission in place, new plants or those in the pipeline have been more keen to achieve it as the distinction between having R1 status or having a plant being classified as a disposal facility is important for planning purposes.
In addition, it is understood that the EA have recently changed the requirements so that efw plants can only claim PRNs if the plant is R1 compliant – although this is not seen as a big driver as PRN income is relatively small.
According to Defra’s ‘Energy from Waste – a guide to the debate’ document, which was updated in February 2014, “All municipal waste incinerators were and are deemed as disposal activities (D10) unless and until they are shown to meet the requirements of R1.”
It adds that “Irrespective of whether the plant is classed as a Recovery (R1) plant or Disposal (D10) plant, operation under the Environmental Permitting Regulations requires that plants recover as much energy as practicable.”
The brevity of the list was commented on by Schlomo Dowen, coordinator for the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN). UKWIN submitted a request to Defra for an earlier version of the list.
While Mr Dowen commended those companies which had invested millions to ensure their facilities met the R1 formula, he said that many others – not listed – were masquerading as recovery facilities and were not able to meet the formula or had not tried. He also questioned the method by which plants could be deemed to be R1 facilities before they became operational.
He said: “What is of most concern to UK WIN is firstly that the process of certification has not been open to scrutiny. There is a lack of transparency in how the assumptions were made that these plants would meet the recovery standard before they become operational.
“But our biggest worry is that the brevity of the list shows there is a real danger that incinerators that do not meet the R1 formula are being passed off as recovery facilities and that many planners are not aware of it. It also disadvantages those operators such as Veolia who have spent millions on ensuring facilities achieve the R1 status.”