South London councils to penalise Viridor over EfW breaches

In a rare move, a local authority group has publicly said that it wants 100% compliance with an energy from waste Environment Agency permit 100% of the time – and penalty measures are to imposed on their contractor, Viridor.

The Beddington EfW plant processes residual waste for the councils which make up the SLWP

However, the authority – the South London Waste Partnership – has confirmed that in the previous year 100% compliance was achieved and that the current problem seems to have arisen because of pressurised gas bottles in the waste stream.

The South London Waste Partnership (via Croydon council) has written to Viridor (operator of the Beddington Energy Recovery Facility) about what it says are: “the relatively high number of emissions exceedances at the plant during May and June 2022.”

The Partnership says that these follow a 12-month period where there were no exceedances at all. The Partnership has formally requested Viridor to provide a Rectification Plan setting out how performance of the plant will be brought back to 100% compliance.

Viridor in turn has described the exceedances as “rare” and explained its position in more detail (see below).

Four boroughs

The Beddington EfW plant takes in around 200,000 tonnes per year of waste from households in the four South London Waste Partnership boroughs (Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton). It has an operational capacity of 347,000 tonnes.

The Environment Agency, explains the Partnership, has set strict emissions limits that the plant must adhere to. It notes that: “Emissions samples are taken every 10 seconds and these are used to calculate 10-minute, 30-minute and daily averages. Any exceedance of the limits must be reported by Viridor to the EA within 24 hours, who then investigate and award financial penalties – in the form of ‘Compliance Assessment Scores’ – if that is deemed appropriate.”

Rectification plans

Through its contract with Viridor, the Partnership is also able to request Rectification Plans and will apply penalties for breaches of the EA permit, it warned this week.

Andrea Keys, partnership director for the South London Waste Partnership, said: “During May and June 2022, there were a total of six exceedances of the emissions limits at the Beddington ERF, five of which were breaches of the EA permit. This is disappointing as the facility had previously gone 12 months without a single breach of the permit.

We have written to Viridor to make it clear that contractual penalties will be applied for each of the breaches

– Andrea Keys, Partnership Director, SLWP

“We have written to Viridor to make it clear that contractual penalties will be applied for each of the breaches and we have formally requested a plan from Viridor that sets out what they are going to do to ensure environmental performance is improved. From the monthly reports (that Viridor publishes online) it would seem that many of the exceedances have been caused by pressurised gas bottles going through the treatment process, so this is an issue we are particularly keen to explore further.

“On the whole, the Beddington ERF continues to perform well. Even in the two months that we have raised concerns about (May and June 2022), compliance remained high (see table below). But the SLWP boroughs expect 100% compliance with the EA permit 100% of the time, and will use all of the mechanisms available to us in our contract with Viridor to ensure those high standards are met.”

Viridor

A spokesperson for Viridor said: “The Beddington ERF delivers a vital waste management service to circa one million residents across the four boroughs of the South London Waste Partnership. The facility holds an environmental permit, issued by the Environment Agency as the UK’s environmental regulator, this stipulates the safe operating conditions to ensure the facility does not cause harm to human health or the environment.”

The ERF is equipped with highly robust and sophisticated emissions monitoring and treatment equipment

– Viridor spokesperson

The Viridor spokesperson continued: “Due to the changeable nature of the incoming waste delivered to the ERF, on rare occasion the operational conditions temporarily exceed the permitted emissions limits for a number of seconds before returning to operate far below its permitted conditions. The ERF is equipped with highly robust and sophisticated emissions monitoring and treatment equipment to regulate the process and return the ERF within the limits within the permit. Viridor conducts a full investigation and reports the findings to the Environment Agency.”

NOTE FROM SOUTH LONDON WASTE PARTNERSHIP
* One of the six exceedances (of Hydrogen Chloride on 3 May 2022) occurred during a period of ‘Abnormal Operations’; a technically unavoidable stoppage, disturbance, or failure of the abatement plant or the measurement devices. During this ‘abnormal operations’ period the operator has four hours to respond to emissions exceedances relating to the abatement systems. If the issue is not rectified within the four hours the plant has to be brought offline and this is classified as a breach of the permit. On this occasion, Viridor was able to bring the emissions back to normal operating levels within the four hour period so a breach of the permit did not occur. The reason the operator is permitted the four hour period is due the amount of diesel required to bring the plant back online and the relative environmental impact that shutting down the plant would have. The facility is allowed a certain amount of hours per calendar year to be in ‘abnormal operations’.

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