It's crucial that we see progress in energy from waste projects
It's the Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure #Infra2018 and there has never been a better time to emphasise the environmental and economic imperative to invest in our waste infrastructure in NI - in particular energy from waste (EFW) facilities to deal with non-recyclable municipal waste.
We are already playing catch-up with the rest of the UK and Europe, where such infrastructure has been operating successfully and safely for many years.
We simply must put in place a sustainable long-term solution for the management of this 'black bin' waste that cannot be recycled and is currently either landfilled or exported to be used as a resource elsewhere.
At Indaver we have experience of operating EFW facilities in Ireland and across Europe. We are currently bidding to deliver the £240m Becon waste infrastructure project to meet the needs of arc21, the umbrella waste management group for councils in the east of NI which accounts for 60% of all municipal waste here.
The project received planning permission last year but is currently the subject of a judicial review of the decision and we await the outcome.
We believe this project is one of the most regionally significant and strategically important ones currently on the table, designed to deliver integrated waste treatment infrastructure that currently does not exist in NI.
It will help manage our residual waste in a sustainable and economically advantageous way while bringing us into line with European counterparts.
Economically the project will not only deliver significant job creation in both the construction and operational phases, but it represents £240m private sector investment which will also contribute to NI's sustainable energy creation and security of supply.
An independent economic report from Oxford Economics has indicated the project would create approximately 455 direct jobs at peak construction and support a significant number of additional jobs in the supply chain.
During the construction phase this would create and sustain direct and indirect jobs generating £122m in total wages and £215m of Gross Value Added (GVA) to the NI economy.
When operational it would create or sustain 337 direct and indirect jobs annually generating a further £7.7m in total wages, contributing £24.7m of GVA. It will also export 14MW electricity to the National Grid - enough to power 30,000+ homes from what is an indigenous energy source.
March is the focus month for Waste Infrastructure during Infra2018. The Institution of Civil Engineering (ICE) who are behind the initiative have highlighted the importance of EfW projects as part of our long-term waste management strategy.
In a State of the Nation report it states: "EfW plants have been developed across most of Europe and the UK to convert non-recyclable materials into energy. Rather than paying to export such waste and then paying for energy imports, EfW has the potential to shortcut the current system, reducing costs to the public and potentially creating new jobs."
"We can boost our economy by developing EfW facilities within the region, thereby avoiding waste export and energy import charges. However, we must uphold the proximity principle by having treatment facilities close to the point of waste generation."
Since this report only one has been developed, which is now under construction. The Full Circle Generation project is scheduled to be operational in 2018 and will provide a treatment solution for some of NI's waste. But there remains a requirement for significant additional capacity to deal with municipal waste in particular.
Across Europe and in countries with the highest recycling rates, waste is seen as a resource and thermal treatment of residual non-recyclable waste is a key component of delivering resource efficiency and growing the circular economy. The proposed Becon project will contribute to NI recycling levels and will also make a significant contribution to the region's security of energy supply through electricity generation.
Currently we are exporting this resource to other parts of Europe at a cost, only for the value to be realised there. The arc21 project will help ensure compliance with existing national and European landfill diversion targets, as well as significantly contributing to future targets such as the Circular Economy (CE) Package, which is likely to be written into EU law by the end of 2018.
It is then likely that the package will be transposed into UK national law prior to its departure from the EU, meaning the delivery of this waste infrastructure remains an imperative, environmentally and economically.
- Jackie Keaney is commercial director of Indaver, which is bidding to deliver the Becon project in Co Antrim