Report into Dublin's Poolberg Incinerator Causing Controversy

There are growing calls for the publication of a report that shows Dublin local authorities would face hundreds of millions of Euros if the  Poolberg incinerator goes ahead.

1 February 2011

The former Irish Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, has called for the publication of a report he commissioned that shows Dublin local authorities would face hundreds of millions of Euros if the controversial Poolbeg incinerator goes ahead.

Gormley, a member of the Green Party, wrote to Minister Eamon O Cuiv calling for the publication of the report and warned that the project's backers may try to use the election period to push ahead with their plans while political attention is focussed elsewhere, saddling the Irish Exchequer with huge potential costs.

"When I was Minister for the Environment, I commissioned this independent report by legal and financial expert John Hennessy S.C. into the proposed incinerator at Poolbeg. Last autumn I forwarded the report to the departments of Finance and the Taoiseach with a view to publication," Gormley said in a statement.

According to Gormley, at the time that the Green Party pulled out of the Government he was in correspondence with the Attorney General about the report's publication, and is now concerned that the document is not shelved.

In his statement, Gormely goes on to add that he believes it to be in the public interest for this report to be published as soon as possible, as it identifies potential penalties of up to Eur 350 million if the project goes ahead.

Under the deal the Dublin local authorities will have to pay significant penalties if they fail to provide sufficient levels of waste to the facility. According to the former minister, because of the recession, increased recycling rates and more competition, the councils are collecting nowhere near the 320,000 tonnes a year they are obliged to provide.

"Mr Hennessy's report makes it abundantly clear that, even with an economic recovery, the councils will face huge difficulties meeting their target, and therefore face hefty penalties." Gormley added.

Further to Gormley's comments, the Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA) has said that the Hennessey Report into the proposed Poolbeg incinerator should be released in full without any further delay.

The Association was commenting following media reports that the Hennessy Report has found that this project is a bad deal for taxpayers with a potential loss of Eur 350 million over the lifetime of the project.

According to the IWMA the Hennessy Report confirms that:
The Dublin local authorities simply do not have enough waste to meet their commitment to Poolbeg Taxpayers will have to foot a large bill for the operation of Poolbeg due to the contract agreed between Dublin City Council and Covanta The highest potential bill that the taxpayer may face is Eur 14 million per annum or Eur 350 million over the lifetime of the contract. The costs of abandoning or revising the scale of the facility are much lower than Dublin City Council alleged.
Brendan Keane, IWMA spokesman commented:

"A 600,000 tonne incinerator is the wrong size for the Dublin Region. In the Dublin Region the recycling rate is now almost 40%, employing thousands of people, and the rate is projected to grow to 60%. Waste rates are falling - sharply - and the days of Celtic Tiger growth are gone."

In addition, Keane pointed out that of the four Dublin local authorities who originally came together to develop the incinerator, one has exited the municipal waste market and another is preparing to do likewise.

Furthermore according to a High Court ruling in 2009, private operators own the waste that they collect, meaning that Dublin City Council cannot force operators - who may choose to treat waste higher up the waste hierarchy, such as through recycling processes - to use the Poolbeg facility

"The IWMA is fully supportive of incineration as part of a balanced approach to waste management but it is essential that it is appropriately sized in the market." Keane concluded.

The report said that the proposed incinerator could end up costing Dublin's four councils between Eur 187 million and Eur 350 million in penalties.

However, Dublin City Council has rejected the findings of the report, and a spokeswoman said that the potential Eur 350 million penalties were a '"hypothetical situation, which simply was not going to happen."

According to the council, Gormley claims that Hennessy also found that the costs of abandoning or varying the project were much lower than claimed by Dublin City Council.

Dublin City Council spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett said that while the report contended it would be 'extremely difficult' to secure waste - this was not the view of the Council, plant operators Covanta or the Economic and Social Research Institute.

Arnett claimed that it is far more likely scenario was that the Councils would be paid Eur 10 million a year for the energy, which the plant will produce in the incineration of waste.

A Department of the Environment spokesman said the report was still being considered by both the Attorney General and the Government and would not be published.