West Sussex to assess future of Biffa MBT facility

EXCLUSIVE: West Sussex county council is due to consult on the future of its 25-year waste treatment contract with Biffa, following continued delays to the opening of the Brockhurst Wood mechanical biological treatment (MBT) plant.

The Chinese Society of Environmental Sciences taking a tour of Biffa’s West Sussex MBT facility during commissioning in 2013

Operations at the MBT facility near Horsham were previously slated to start in summer 2013. But, the opening has been put back by almost two years (see letsrecycle.com story).

The Chinese Society of Environmental Sciences took a tour of the technology at Biffa’s West Sussex MBT facility in 2013
The Chinese Society of Environmental Sciences took a tour of the technology at Biffa’s West Sussex MBT facility in 2013

The facility was developed as part of an estimated £1 billion contract agreed with West Sussex council in 2010, with projected capacity to treat 327,000 tonnes of municipal black bag waste from across the county each year.

However, West Sussex has not revealed whether it is technology at the plant which has run into problems or the financial structure of the contract itself with the possibility that the authority might even have been expecting an income from the RDF usage.

Kevin Carter, head of commercial services at West Sussex county council, told letsrecycle.com the reported delays are not due to the capacity of the site – which began accepting some residual waste as part of the commissioning process in July 2014.

Mr Carter declined to explain the exact issues confronting the project but did confirm the council is to open a consultation with Biffa about the future of the contract.

Viridor

Meanwhile, the council has also opted to extend its existing interim disposal contract with Viridor, which will continue to accept waste from the county for incineration at its Lakeside energy-from-waste plant (run in partnership with Grundon) and at its landfill sites for a further 12 months.

Minutes from a council cabinet meeting published in March 2015 show that the 12 months extension was approved as the MBT would “not be available” for the beginning of the 2015/2016 financial year.

West Sussex’ cabinet was told: “The Mechanical and Biological Treatment (MBT) facility (which is being constructed under the Materials Resource Management Contract), will not be available, as anticipated, for the beginning of the new financial year. Officers have been considering other options within the existing contractual arrangements for the treatment and disposal of the County’s waste which can be deployed until the MBT facility is available.”

The document adds that the options were agreed in the context of the council’s plans for the longer-term waste strategy – which is also currently under review.

RDF

The council has launched the review in light of additional delays to the procurement of a contract to treat RDF produced at the Biffa MBT plant. In 2013, Ernst & Young pulled out of the process as financial advisor due to a conflict of interests.

The council claims it is looking at ways to achieve the “maximum diversion possible” from landfill, although commercial arrangements for the treatment of the RDF output have not been disclosed.

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In a joint statement with Biffa, West Sussex county council said it was in discussions with the company to determine what remaining work needs to be carried out before the MBT can become operational.

A council spokesman said: “There have been a number of matters that have caused delay to the completion of commissioning and testing of the MBT facility at Brookhurst Wood, north of Horsham.

“Fortunately, the existing contractual arrangements are sufficiently flexible to accommodate this kind of back up service. This has allowed us to send residual waste for energy recovery under our existing contracts, while still allowing black bag waste to be processed at the MBT facility to support the commissioning and testing processes.

“We have been undertaking a review of our long-term waste strategy, including the arrangements that will be put in place to dispose of the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) output once the facility is fully operational. We intend to divert the RDF output from landfill and are finalising our strategy to achieve the maximum diversion possible.”

Financial

Some observers consider that West Sussex is also reviewing the financial structure of the contract with the suggestion that it was “optimistically” expecting a rebate from the production of RDF and its potential use as a fuel near to the MBT plant.

However, with the collapse in oil prices and the ease of exporting RDF to the continent, any income from the production plant to the county council is now less likely. It is thought that the use of the RDF on an industrial estate or as a power source for nearby houses has made little progress and so there is no immediate hope of a local energy income for the authority.

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