ESRI stands firm over Poolbeg incinerator report

The country’s leading think-tank today revealed it will not be withdrawing a report on a controversial incinerator heavily criticised by opponents of the scheme.

The country’s leading think-tank today revealed it will not be withdrawing a report on a controversial incinerator heavily criticised by opponents of the scheme.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said it stood over its conclusion that there will be enough rubbish in Dublin to make the planned Poolbeg burner viable.

However, its lead authors admitted there had been some errors over the cost of waste levies which would be amended.

Environment Minister John Gormley and the Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA) have maintained the Poolbeg incinerator is too big, while campaigners suggested the €125,000 study was biased because it was commissioned by Dublin City Council which is pushing for the incinerator.

Paul Gorecki, ESRI research professor, maintained its role was to comment on public policy and said the institute had charged its usual rates for the research.

He disputed claims the study had been fundamentally flawed and stressed that after a review of criticisms, his conclusions broadly remained the same.

“There is enough waste for the incinerator to be able to function,” said Mr Gorecki.

“The differences (with IWMA) come down to the amount of waste you think is going to be generated in Dublin and nationally over the next 10 to 15 years.”

Mr Gorecki revealed the ESRI forecast an annual growth rate of waste will be 4% after the recession base on the estimated rise in the service and retails sectors, households and population.

He claimed the IWMA came up with a lower rate of 0.65% per year based on average growth rate of waste in five other European countries up to about 2007.

“Those countries had a much lower population growth than we do and there were also lots of other differences so before we use another country you have to say why those countries are appropriate,” he said.

“We think a methodology or approach which is based on Irish conditions and Irish data, and the best we have available, is a much better approach to predicting the amount of waste we are going to experience.”

The Poolbeg waste-to-energy incinerator was controversially granted planning permission in 2007 and will burn 600,000 tonnes of rubbish a year. It will be big enough to power 50,000 homes a year.

Mr Gormley faced down staunch criticism from local residents and politicians after the project was granted a licence in late 2008, claiming he was opposed but could not intervene in the planning process.

He has said it should be halved in capacity because there is not enough waste to fulfil the contract with the private consortium, Covanta Europe Engineering Ltd – which later confirmed it may import waste from outside the capital to ensure the scheme is viable.

Authors of the ESRI report – An Economic Approach to Municipal Waste Management Policy in Ireland – said they also disagreed with several issues raised by opponents on recycling rates and extra levies being imposed on non greenhouse gas air pollutants.

Mr Gorecki said the only valid criticism is that incinerators were exempted from the Emission Trading System (ETS).

“When this correction is made, the waste levy per tonne for incineration for an urban incinerator increases from €4.22 to €5.07 per tonne to €9.80 to €10.70 per tonne,” he said.

“These numbers are still much less than the €26 per tonne (plus non-GHG pollutant related taxes) recommended in the International Review carried out for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

“Consequently, such a revision does not alter the substance of our proposed roadmap.”

Dublin City Council said it welcomed the ESRI’s confirmation that the central findings of the report remained unchanged.

“The ESRI report will add economic substance to the debate on waste management,” added a spokesman.

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