'How Can We Be Expected to Have Confidence in a Company That Has Broken the Law on Numerous Occasions in America? We Are Suffering the Effects of the Mine. Now We Have Another Battle on Our Hands' Worried Residents Hit out as Full Scope of Incinerator Firm's History Is Revealed
Byline: Martin Shipton Chief Reporter
A COMPANY behind a huge "energy from waste" incinerator planned for Wales has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States for emitting cancer-causing chemicals from similar plants, the Western Mail can reveal today.
Covanta has unveiled plans for an incinerator at Merthyr Tydfil that would generate about 70 megawatts of electricity - enough to supply power to up to 180,000 homes. The plant would burn around 750,000 tonnes of waste a year.
News of the company's lawbreaking record in America horrified residents in Merthyr, where it would be sited next to the controversial Ffos-y-Fran opencast coal mine.
Elizabeth Condron, who mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge against the mine, said: "How can we be expected to have confidence in a company that has broken the law on numerous occasions in America? We are already suffering the effects of the mine. Now we have another battle on our hands to stop this going ahead."
Because it is classified as a power plant generating more than 50 megawatts of electricity, the decision on whether the Merthyr development goes ahead will be taken not in Wales, but by a UK Government quango to be called the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The commission is being set up to speed the planning process for big projects. Sceptics say the new system will make it easier for controversial projects to be passed.
Scott Whitney, president of Covanta-Europe, said: "Covanta Energy is the world leader in the operation of energy from waste facilities. We operate on a policy of honesty and transparency and believe in active dialogue with existing and potential neighbours.
"Covanta fully supports the concept of the three Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle - and will commit itself to these principles in Wales. However, for waste that cannot be reasonably or economically recycled it believes in the fourth R of energy, recovery, as a better option than putting waste into landfill sites. Our plants use waste left over after recycling as a fuel to generate heat and electricity.
"We have no problem with people and campaigners voicing their opposition - debate is the foundation of consensus. We have already announced there will be a lengthy and comprehensive period of public consultation before a planning application is submitted. During the planning process we will answer questions from the public and from statutory bodies. The planning application will include a full environmental impact assessment. We will have to demonstrate the plant will be safe before planning permission can be granted.
"The company's global track record in safety is excellent and this can be verified byawide range of awards and acknowledgements the company has received in recent years from environmental and governmental bodies.
"We agree with the UK Government and environmentalists that it is time to stop dumping waste in holes in the ground. Our proven technology is environmentally superior to landfilling - there are over 340 energy from waste plants operating successfully in Europe processing 48m tonnes of waste annually, providing an option that is cost effective for council tax payers and better for the environment. Our approach is to treat our plants as power stations capable of generating a clean, renewable amount of electricity and thereby reducing the dependency on carbon fuels such as gas, coal and oil. This, in turn, helps the environment.
"The plant proposed at Merthyr will take much of the waste across Wales after recycling; it will greatly reduce truck movements as most waste will be moved by trains in sealed containers; produce enough electricity to meet the needs of 180,000 homes and provide employment for 500 people during construction and a further 100 jobs once it is operational.
"It will be monitored by the Environment Agency, which needs to grant an operating licence before it can be commissioned. …