Plant’s operator seeks approval for a phased development in the face of residents’ opposition and concerns over air quality
October 4, 2017 — Plans for the world’s biggest waste-to-energy plant in Sydney’s west have been cut in half, in an effort to address concerns from health and environmental authorities, and residents.
The Next Generation, a company owned by one of the largest waste operators in Australia – Ian Malouf, founder of Dial A Dump – has lodged new documents seeking a phased development of the plant.
The documents, submitted in response to more than 1,000 submissions, say: “Construction and operation will be phased. Initial waste processing will be limited to phase one, allowing up to 552,500 tonnes of residual waste fuel to be thermally treated per annum.”
The company says it is now only seeking approval for phase one and that phase two “will be subject to the proponent satisfying the Environmental [sic] Protection Authority of the availability of eligible waste fuels”.
The original environmental impact statement was for a plant capable of burning 1.35m tonnes of garbage a year. It was fiercely opposed by local residents because of its 800-metre proximity from the nearest suburb, Erskine Park, and its location in the sensitive Sydney basin.
High-temperature incineration of industrial and household waste to generate electricity is common in Scandinavia and Germany, but in Australia it has been confined to small cogeneration plants at factories, burning waste paper and wood.
The Next Generation plant would be a first. The original proposal was for a plant double the size of similar plants in Europe.
The Next Generation claims that the plant offers a source of “green energy” and would use state-of-the-art technology. But the sheer scale of the original proposal – to be located at Eastern Creek at the junction of the M5 and M4 motorways – prompted objections from both the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority and the state’s health department over air quality and its likely impact on rates of recycling.
The Sydney basin already has some of the poorest air quality in Australia, particularly during the summer months.
The new documents contain additional modelling on the composition of fuel stock for the plant – domestic and construction waste, including plastics. They also contain new modelling on air quality from a smaller plant.
“Based on the updated modelling inputs, cumulative predictions detail no exceedances [of emission limit] of the EPA criteria when the EfW [energy-from-waste] contribution is added to maximum background concentration under expected operating conditions,” the company says.
But residents’ group No Incinerator for Western Sydney said that to describe the project as “clean and green” was false.
“This is not clean green energy, it is simply burning fossil fuels in another form. Mass combustion incinerators rank as one of the dirties known forms of energy production, and produce far more carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated than coal-, oil- or gas-fired power stations,” the group said in a recent submission to a parliamentary inquiry looking into the project.
“Incinerators also produce toxic emissions that consist of toxic metals, such as dioxin, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and over 200 organic chemicals, including known carcinogens, mutagens and hormone disrupters.”
The group is also concerned about the disposal of the toxic residual ash, which, it said, required handling similar to radioactive waste.
Spokeswoman Melinda Wilson said the reduction in the size of the incinerator would not alter local opposition.
“There are already air-quality problems in the Sydney basin. It’s a ridiculous to put an incinerator at this location,” she said.
The other concern raised by the EPA was the impact an incinerator would have on recycling rates, particularly of plastics and organic material. The submission says new modelling has shown there is currently 551,200 tonnes of waste eligible to be used as waste-to-energy fuel, sufficient to power phase one.
The proponent says the waste used in the incinerator would otherwise go to landfill.
The project will be determined by an independent planning assessment commission in coming months, but faces continuing stiff opposition from residents.