Campaigners backed by green group councillors have failed in their bid to have Aberdeenshire Council withdraw from a £150 million energy from waste project.
Following a 53-11 vote at full council today (Thursday), the local authority has now appointed a multi-national consortium led by global construction company Acciona to lead the NESS Energy Project at East Tullos after a two-year procurement process.
Acciona will lead the project using its own in-house construction skills to build the plant, while waste company Indaver – which currently owns and operates EfW facilities in Ireland, Belgium and Netherlands -will then operate the plant for a 20-year contract period.
Infrastructure services chief Stephen Archer described the project as a “significant commitment” by the council in partnership with Moray and Aberdeen City who both approved the project lead earlier this week.
Due to be built by 2022, the plant will take non-recyclable waste from Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, and Moray councils and burn it ‘cleanly and completely’ conforming to European standards for emissions.
From January 1, 2021, Scottish councils will be banned from putting any biodegradable municipal waste into landfill.
But that didn’t deter local opponents of the proposed scheme who said it was too large, set impossible targets and would have major detrimental impacts on the local community and the wider environment.
Torry Community Council member and Third Sector business leader Neil Clapperton said the proposals from the plant flew in the face of the local opinions in Torry where 100% of residents surveyed were actually seeking greater investment in recycling – not incinerators.
Instead of agreeing to the “pumping of three million tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the environment” during the lifespan of the plant, he said the council “needed to inspire change” in society to manage its own personal waste in a better manner.
And he poured scorn on suggestions that the plant would meet the time-sensitive requirements of SEPA to have free energy provided to local homes, claiming there was no demand from the community itself.
Councillor Paul Johnston of the Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG) also raised a motion to formally withdraw the council from the project partnership agreement with Aberdeen City and Moray councils.
He said if the council continued with the scheme it would have built something that would “only ever meet yesterday’s problems” and said future generations would pay the price.
His motion stated: “The large capacity of the proposed Ness Energy Project will generate demand for mixed waste and act as a perverse incentive to recycling and waste minimisation and may result in competition for limited supplies of commercial waste.”
Cllr Johnston said that, compared with disposal in energy from waste plants, composting of biodegradable waste generated “far less carbon dioxide” and produced material that improved soil unlike the burning of oil-derived plastics which “adds to carbon dioxide emissions like burning other fossil fuels”.
Fellow DIGG councillor Martin Ford described the scheme as a “knee-jerk” reaction to the forthcoming landfill ban and said there were other less-damaging alternatives over the next few decades.
He told council: “This is all about a short-term fix for a very real problem. Our job is to take a strategic view in the public interest.
“We’re being unfair to future generations, taking a huge risk and we are building in a poor treatment of waste for decades to come.”
But there was a show of unity for the proposals from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat-led Administration and SNP-led Partnership group.
Partnership leader Richard Thomson – who stressed that the group continued to offer a free vote on the subject to its members – said: “My position throughout has been very, very clear and it remains unchanged that while I might not have any great enthusiasm for the concept of energy from waste, the question that has to be asked is if not this, then what?”
Commenting on the final decision, council leader Jim Gifford said: “This is a really significant decision in terms of how we deal with the non-recyclable waste generated in the area that is collected by the council and I’m pleased there was so much support across the chamber.
“This facility provides the solution our communities need to address the imminent landfill ban and ties in with ongoing efforts to seriously increase local recycling rates through the introduction of a new waste strategy in Aberdeenshire.”
Deputy leader Councillor Peter Argyle said: “Clearly there is still a long way to go until this facility is up and running and generating energy from waste which cannot be prevented, reused or recycled, but this is a milestone on the road towards a new approach to waste in our area.
“During recent consultation 73% of respondents were supportive of the council making the most of waste by disposing of it through the energy from waste process and I’m pleased all three councils are moving forward to achieve this together.”