By Tom Tuite
The operator of the Poolbeg incinerator has been fined €1,000 and ordered to pay €14,000 in costs after a “glitch” led to breaking its environmental protection licence during its first week.
The power plant at Pigeon House Road, Poolbeg, Dublin 4, which began operations in June last year, aims to convert waste that cannot be reused or recycled into clean energy to produce 60 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 80,000 homes.
It is run by The Dublin Waste to Energy project – a public-private partnership between Dublin City Council and recycling and energy company Covanta.
Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd faced six counts of breaking conditions of a licence for the facility granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Summonses had been issued after which the case was first listed before Dublin District Court in November and had been adjourned until today when a guilty plea was entered to three of the charges. The remaining three counts were dropped.
Solicitor, Brendan Slattery, for the EPA, told Judge Flann Brennan the plant required and held a licence from the EPA. The charges related to events in June last year when the facility just commenced operation, he said.
He said the incineration plant was one of two of its type in Ireland and the court heard this was the first prosecution of its kind.
The operator pleaded guilty to failing to ensure on June 6 last that the incineration plant was operated in such a way that gas resulting from the process was raised at a temperature of 850 degrees Celsius.
There was also a guilty plea to a charge for failing to ensure an auxiliary burner was switched on automatically when the temperature fell below 850 degrees Celsius.
Dublin Waste to Energy also pleaded guilty that between June 1 and June 2 last, both dates inclusive, it failed to ensure, in the event of an incident occurring at the facility, that the EPA was notified by 10am the following working day; and that it failed to notify in a format specified by the agency of any breach of one or more of the conditions of the licence.
EPA inspector Simon Buckley told the court he was at the facility on June 2 when he discovered there had been a loss of temperature incident the previous day, but the agency had not been notified in accordance with the licence.
He agreed with Mr Slattery that the temperature in the combustion chamber had dropped to under 850 degrees Celsius, there was a breach of their emissions limit and there had been a plant shut-down.
The court heard that on June 6 the chamber’s temperature again went below the 850 degree Celsius mark, which the court heard was required for the combustion of waste.
In accordance with the operator’s licence, an auxiliary Diesel powered burner was supposed to switch on automatically to bring the temperature back to the right level.
However, Mr Buckley said the back-up burner’s fuel supplies were exhausted and it would not turn on. He also accepted that the frequency of these incidents had reduced significantly.
The court heard Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd had no prior criminal convictions and there were no other prosecutions pending.
General manager of the plant, John Daly, was present for the hearing but did not have to give evidence.
The charges were contrary to Section 8 and 86 (6) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992.
Shane Murphy SC, for Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd, told the court it was caused by a “glitch” and happened in the plant’s first week in operation when testing was being carried out.
He asked the court to take into account the guilty plea, the lack of previous convictions as well as the fact that the facility had been under rigorous supervision and there was no evidence of environmental damage.
Mr Murphy said, “It is very much regretted on behalf of my client.”
The court heard the offences carried a class-B fine of up to €4,000 per offence. Judge Brennan said it was a “major factor” that no other prosecutions were “coming down the line”.
He also took into account Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd’s co-operation and that the incidents took place during a special period when the plant had just opened. The testing phase had to serve its purpose and seemed to have ensured compliance with the licence, he said.
He imposed a €1,000 on one charge while the other two counts were struck out and the judge also directed the defendant to pay €14,133 in prosecution costs.