ROCs for rubbish promises boost for waste-to-energy sector

The combination of changes to the government's incentive scheme and growing support for planning applications should result in a raft of new waste-to-energy projects getting the go-ahead later this year.

That is the prediction of Nick Bawber, managing director of Energos, one of the UK's largest providers of waste-to-energy technologies and a subsidiary of renewables project developer ENER-G, who said that an increase in the incentives for gasification systems - due to take effect from April - should provide a major boost for the sector, and in particular smaller scale waste gasification plants.

The sector had been fearful that new rules governing which waste-to-energy projects could qualify for incentives under the government's Renewables Obligation scheme would exclude some projects from receiving Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which they can then sell onto energy companies.

Under the original definition, some gasification plants - which work by heating residual non-recyclable waste to produce a syngas that is then burned off to generate energy resulting in significantly lower levels of pollution than traditional waste incineration plants - would have been at risk of not meeting the minimum efficiency standards to qualify for ROCs.

"The government set the original standards as they did not want standard waste incinerators being reclassified as renewable energy and receiving ROCs," explained Bawber. "But the definition was set at such a level that if you were using wet waste in a gasification plant it would not qualify."

Following lobbying from the industry, the government last month released new guidelines that will ensure that all gasification plants receive ROCs, while the most efficient systems will receive double ROCs for the energy they produce.

Under the new rules, plants that achieve a minimum energy content of two megajoules per metre cubed will received one ROC, while those using advanced gasification and achieving a minimum energy content of four megajoules per metre cubed will qualify for double ROCs.

Energos, which last year completed work on the UK's first gasification plant on the Isle of Wight, said that the change in the introduction of double ROCs had made viable plans for a new eight megawatt gasification plant in Derbyshire, as well as an 80,000 tonne facility in Scotland and a new plant on Merseyside for which the company has just applied for planning permission.

Bawber said that in addition to benefiting from more generous incentives, the sector was also seeing a shift in attitude from planning authorities that should see growing numbers of plants approved.

"One of the key things about the new ROCs regime is that it will benefit the small-scale developments that offer a local solution to local waste and tend to find it easier to gain support," he explained, adding that local authorities were also under growing pressure to give the go-ahead for waste-to-energy plants that promise to cut the amount of waste going to landfill.

"The councils are on track to hit their current targets for landfill but if they are going to hit the targets for 2013 onwards they are going to need additional processing facilities," he observed. "You can expect a lot of projects to get the go-ahead later this year."

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