12 February 2021 by James Langley

Viridor’s Exeter EfW plant could supply heat to Devon councils

Three Devon councils unveiled plans yesterday (11 February) for a district heating network which would use heat provided by Viridor’s Exeter energy from waste (EfW) plant.

Teignbridge district council, Exeter city council and Devon county council have backed the initiative with funding of up to £7.3 million towards the £23 million capital investment project.

Viridor’s £45 million EfW plant opened in October 2014

The network would supply heat to planned housing developments in south west Exeter, which will see up to 2,500 new homes plus a school campus, shops and community facilities. The councils say analysis suggests that the network would reduce carbon emissions from the proposed new homes by up to 70%, compared with natural gas fired boiler alternatives.

Teignbridge district council leader Alan Connett said: “This is an innovative way of helping future homeowners with an effective energy solution for heating their homes whilst at the same time making a significant impact on our carbon savings plans.

“It is an example of how we as a council can work with neighbouring authorities and developers to implement solutions which improve housing while tackling environmental concerns.

“Until contracts are signed, we can’t guarantee that the scheme will go ahead but everyone is committed to overcoming the outstanding issues and pushing forward with this innovative approach.”

So confident are the councils in the benefits of the scheme that an advance payment of £50,000 will be made available for preliminary infrastructure works.

Energy from waste

Viridor’s £45 million EfW plant opened in October 2014 (see letsrecycle.com story). It operates under a partnership with Devon county council and diverts about 60,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste away from landfill from households within Exeter and the surrounding area each year.

“We are pleased to be working with the councils and their partners to fully realise the EfW’s potential and contribute to this important initiative”

Richard Pennells, Viridor

The export of heat from the facility is around five times more energy efficient than the generation of electricity at the plant, Viridor says.

Establishing the heat network would mean gas boilers would not be needed in homes within the south west Exeter development area, the councils say.

Viridor’s chief operations officer Richard Pennells said the company, which has its headquarters in the south west, was looking forward to working with the councils. He said: “Exeter EfW already attaches a purpose to non-recyclable waste, diverting 60,000 tonnes from landfill every year and generating enough energy to power the equivalent of more than 6,600 homes.

“The EfW is, however, designed to be a combined heat and power plant and we are pleased to be working with the councils and their partners to fully realise the EfW’s potential and contribute to this important initiative.”

Funding

Council officers have been working with advisers from the University of Exeter and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to bring the project forward.

Viridor’s Exeter ERF diverts 60,000 tonnes of residual waste from landfill every year

Utility network operator Leep Utilities will operate the network as the Energy Services Company (ESCo). Leep Utilities is working closely with EfW operator Viridor to put in place arrangements for accessing the plant’s heat, the councils say. The company is also in the process of negotiating terms with the development area’s housebuilders and developers in order to provide the low carbon heat to future residents.

The need for substantial upfront capital investment and uncertain rates of return means that the scheme today is not “commercially viable”, the councils say, leading council members to decide to support the venture with a multi-million-pound package of grant and loan funding.

The funding will come from developer contributions, including the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is a charge on development to fund new infrastructure. The expectation is that the system would also have the capacity to heat further new homes and commercial buildings at Marsh Barton, the trading estate in Exeter where Viridor’s EfW plant is located.

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