An incinerator like the one planned for North Yorkshire. Photograph: Alan Murray-Rust
Will the new incinerator planned for Allerton Park commit York to produce extra rubbish? In his latest Green Piece, Geoff Beacon considers wasteful incineration



Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, spoke at the University of York on Wednesday night. She described the green party that was environmental and slightly to the left of the Labour Party. They would re-nationalise the railways and make the minimum wage high enough to give people a decent living.

She claimed that before the last election the Green Party proposals were examined “with a fine tooth comb” by Channel 4 but when they found no black hole in the proposals did not publicise their findings. Welcome to the real world Natalie.

In general, Natalie’s speech was a bit too populist, ticking all her supporters boxes but with little challenges but one comment – relevant to York – struck me. She pointed out that York were soon to be part of a contract to supply waste to the proposed incinerator at Allerton Park, near Knaresborough.

The contract is huge, worth an estimated £1.4bn over 25 years, and commits City of York Council to provide hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rubbish to burn for 25 years into the future when we should be aiming to reduce our waste.

Are we being locked into a contract that will punish York if we don’t produce enough rubbish?

Richard Lane of the campaign group York Residents Against Incineration (YRAIN) says yes:

If the plans go ahead as currently written, we’re not going to be able to recycle more than about 60 per cent of our waste before 2040 without risking penalty fines. This is a pretty appalling prospect, given that elsewhere in the country councils are chalking up recycling rates of around 70% already.

The plans for the incinerator were drawn up in 2005 around a prediction of continually increasing waste volumes. Since then waste volumes have fallen by around 50,000 tonnes.

Campaigners from YRAIN and the North Yorkshire Waste Action Group will be calling for a rethink by demonstrating against the plans when they come to the North Yorkshire Council planning committee on Tuesday October 30th. (If you’d like to join them, you’ll need to take the 8.58am from York – more on the NYWAG website).

Another reason for doubting the Allerton Park solution is that it is located in a position that makes it difficult to use most of the heat generated by the incinerator. The Harrogate News website says:

Up to 80% of the waste would be incinerated. The power from the incinerator would be converted to electricity rather than using a CHP (combined heat and power) system as there is no adjacent industry to utilize a CHP plant.

Waste would be transported from all corners of the county, including additional vehicles coming through Harrogate from the Skipton/Craven area.

The plans for this incinerator is just in time to avoid the new Energy Efficiency Directive proposed by the European Commission which looks to promote greater efficiency in energy generation by making combined heat and power (CHP) with district heating the default option.

The Allerton Park scheme may “produce 24 mega watts of electricity or enough to power 40,000 homes” but without CHP it means it will be throwing away about 48 megawatts of heat – sufficient to heat loads more homes. That’s a waste of waste.

The CHP option has been implemented successfully by Shetland Heat and Power who say:

Shetland Heat Energy and Power Ltd has been serving district heating to both domestic and non domestic properties in Lerwick since 1998. Hot water is pumped around Lerwick through underground insulated pipes and enters properties through a heat exchanger, supplying their heating and hot water needs.

The heat used in the scheme is generated at a Waste to Energy Incinerator located on the outskirts of Lerwick. The incinerator at the Energy Recovery Plant burns domestic and commercial waste from Shetland, Orkney and from the offshore oil industry, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. Up to June 2009 there was a total of 1002 connections and 961 of these are receiving heat.

Neville Martin, their District Heating Manager, has some interesting ideas on properly conducted incineration.

I am not happy on a lot of waste issues. All I ever seem to hear of is composting or new technology energy from waste plants that avoid the word “incineration”. I have a nice garden but have never used compost. I saw a paper a few weeks ago that said gassification of waste was better than incineration but the only reason why was that they could get a bit more electricity out of it as the assumption was the heat was going to be dumped. If the whole process was looked at the heat was used the report should have gone straight to an incinerator!

At Stornoway they have spent £10 million on an anaerobic digester that produces 0.25MW of electricity from the methane with the same amount of heat going back into the system. The final product is a poor quality compost that is only fit for covering the landfill site! Most of that biomass is going to waste. For the same amount of waste we get 6.5MW of heat. I argue that poor quality compost should at the bottom of the waste hierarchy except for landfill but I do not expect any change. The politicians and green lobby have lost the plot.

This is a different view to YRAIN who argue that incineration should play no part of our future. They say:

In May this year, the EU Parliament passed a resolution on a “Resource Efficient Europe” with an overwhelming majority. This resolution calls for the creation of legislation to outlaw the disposal by incineration or landfill of any recyclable or compostable waste by 2020. This tallies with national policy set by the Coalition Government to work toward a zero-waste economy.

“Separating all recyclable and compostable waste is a feasible goal, and we welcome the pressure that the EU is placing on member states to achieve this within the decade. But it leaves us in North Yorkshire with a problem – we will be paying for a burner we don’t need and then compensating AmeyCespa further because we’re not using it,” said Richard Lane.

A Shetland solution with carbon capture and storage would be my choice because we will need facilities that can burn biomass and capture the carbon dioxide thus becoming carbon negative, actually extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As waste levels reduce we should replace it by biomass grown for the purpose but that’s for a future piece.

Forget zero-carbon. It’s not enough.

We must become carbon negative.