In Need Of Guidance

ChrisCIWM deputy chief executive, Chris Murphy, tackles Defra’s recently published Energy From Waste Guidance and asks the question: “who is it for?”
Published in The CIWM Journal April 2013

Is the Defra energy from waste guidance aimed at you?

Late in February Defra released its long awaited Energy From Waste (EfW) Guide. When first mooted there was a body of opinion that thought this would be the EfW version of the Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Framework and subsequent Action Plans, which would address the issues holding back the development of the technology and promote its use. That was perhaps wishful thinking and the guide aims to help deliver the Government goal of ensuring that recovery of EfW and its place in the waste hierarchy is understood and valued by households, businesses and the public sector in the same way as re-use and recycling. It claims to have provided a credible reference document to inform discussions and decisions relating to EfW.

When reading it I got the same feeling I do when reading “chick lit”; it is all very well but is it really aimed at me? The answer is yes, mainly because it is aimed at absolutely everyone including the public, planners, technology providers, energy companies, elected members and the waste industry. The purpose of the guide is to provide a starting point for discussions about the role energy from waste might have in managing waste. The vast majority of those listed as the target audience and whom they want to “engage in the debate about energy recovery” is way beyond the starting point in the debate. Maybe that is its essence? It provides the balance that those too close to the issue have difficulty seeing.

Chris Murphy – “The purpose of the guide is to provide a starting point for discussions about the role energy from waste might have in managing waste”

The guide makes some unequivocal statements on Government policy in the sector. It says “efficiently recovering energy from residual waste has a valuable role to play in both diverting waste from landfill and energy generation”. It claims that there is a Government aim to get the most value from residual waste via energy recovery and that they are keen to support domestic RDF and SRF markets to ensure that the UK benefits from the energy generated from UK waste. How unfortunate it was that only days after the release of the guide the Government pulled the plug on three major PFIs, much to the disgust of the Energy Secretary, and they announced only a week earlier that there could be an energy gap and we face the lights being switched off. There was no mention of plugging that gap with EfW.

Some issues, such as biogenic and short cycle carbon, energy generation and fuel production, are dealt with well and provide a useful base for further debate, particularly for those new to the subject. Unfortunately there are too many occasions where “the arguments are simplified” to the extent that the key issues are aired but not put to bed. Similarly, while I understand that the guide does not set out any new policy but highlights key environmental, technical and economic issues to raise the level of understanding and debate around energy from waste, it could provide a more positive Government steer. For example, in addition to the balanced appraisal of what is viewed as the proximity principle or the health risks there could be a Government position or statement. It doesn’t have to be new policy but a reiteration of the present.

I don’t wish to be too critical of such a well intentioned document but there are some naive political and commercial statements which shouldn’t appear in an EfW guide, which basically hinges on three issues: finance/commerce; planning/politics; and technology.

There is little doubt that the guide will be relevant to those wishing to engage in the debate about energy recovery. I will be using it and the supporting technology briefs when explaining the issues. I do hope that it does encourage all the stakeholders listed to engage in the debate and if it helps some understand the position of others it will have achieved its goal.

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