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Controversial NI incinerator plan secures connection to electricity grid

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An artist’s impression of the proposed waste facility

An artist’s impression of the proposed waste facility

An artist’s impression of the proposed waste facility

A controversial incinerator project - which has indirectly brought about new legislation at Stormont which saw an unprecedented DUP rebellion - has secured a connection to the electricity grid.

The Hightown incinerator project remains in the planning system after it was first proposed over seven years ago for a site in Mallusk on the outskirts of Belfast.

It is hoped a decision could be made in the autumn. Originally it was thought to take around four years to build.

Those behind the plan - Arc21 which represents a group of six Northern Ireland councils - and the Becon Consortium which is aiming to build and operate the project - argue it will improve recycling rates and provide affordable power for 30,000 homes a year as well as helping to achieve zero carbon targets and help in the fight against climate change.

John Ahern of the Becon Consortium said they were "delighted" to accept a connection offer from NI Electricity Networks.

"It represents another significant step in realising the value of this important infrastructure project for the Arc21 council area and Northern Ireland as a whole.

"The need for our society to meet environmental and climate change targets has never been greater. As we pursue net zero-carbon targets by 2050 and the transition to a circular economy, Northern Ireland must play its part.

"This includes following the lead of other European countries to develop new waste infrastructure which diverts waste from landfill, increases recycling and maximises the value from our non-recyclable waste."

He added: "The Becon Consortium has developed plans to build the necessary integrated infrastructure to meet the councils’ specific requirements in a way that will help meet statutory targets for landfill diversion, recycling and renewable energy for many years to come.

"The electricity connection specifically will contribute over 50,000 MWh per year towards Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets. This in turn will reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels and enhance our security of supply."

He added: "Increasingly energy from waste is also unlocking other important decarbonisation opportunities such as hydrogen fuel production and highly efficient steam heating schemes.

"As well as this important grid connection, we are currently in discussions with various partners to explore the potential for this scheme to do just that here in Northern Ireland, similar to what we are doing in our existing EfW facility in County Meath. This is very much in support of the Executive’s desire to create a “green recovery” as we focus on growing the economy post Covid-19 pandemic”.

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Members of No Arc 21 and politicians outside the High Court in Belfast last month

Members of No Arc 21 and politicians outside the High Court in Belfast last month

Members of No Arc 21 and politicians outside the High Court in Belfast last month

In 2015 SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durken turned the planning application down only for civil servants to overturn the decision on appeal.

That decision was later quashed in the High Court with judges ruling it "controversial and significant" and for a decision to be made in absence of an elected MLA was "contrary to the letter and spirit" of the Good Friday Agreement. The ruling said any decision would need the buy-in of the entire Executive.

That ruling led to a bill which passed through Stormont to hand more power to Executive ministers to allow them to take major decisions on their own.

Despite it passing, 11 DUP MLAs rebelled against the party whip. Concerns were raised it would allow a minister to go on a solo run when others would be opposed.

The incinerator, which will be similar in size to Wembley Stadium, will receive rubbish that would usually be bound for landfill, process and sort it into recyclable and waste material. The resulting waste material will then be incinerated in a sophisticated facility which will take the resulting energy created and transform it into electricity.

Up to 4,000 letters objecting to the incinerator were lodged with planners, with residents listing concerns about the visual impact, light and noise pollution, increased traffic of heavy goods vehicles and health implications.

They also feel it will enhance Mallusk’s unwanted reputation as the “dumping capital of Northern Ireland”.

The decision is with current Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon. The North Belfast MLA has campaigned with the protest group NoArc21 in its efforts to have the plan scrapped.

UUP leader Steve Aiken has called for a Stormont committee to carry out a full investigation.

Belfast Telegraph