Is technology moving faster than the regulators?

Last week I touched on a major problem for developers of new waste plants in Europe: the sheer length of time it can take for a new facility to gain approval and come to fruition. There’s a stark contrast with, say, China, where new plants seem to be announced every week.

A good example is the Lostock SEP (Sustainable Energy Plant). This is being sponsored by Tata Chemicals Europe. E.on Energy From Waste was originally involved, but Tata has now replaced this with a new consortium (see below).


Click the map to view the plant’s exact location. AcuComm’s entry for the facility can be found here.

It is based on the site of a derelict power station at Lostock, just outside Northwich, Cheshire, UK. The power station closed in 2000 but has yet to be demolished. Tata originally proposed the creation of a large waste-to-energy plant in 2010. This would burn RDF, not raw MSW or biomass, generating 60 MW of electricity. Annual capacity would be 600,000 tonnes, equal to around 1,800 tonnes per day. This is more than is generated locally, so RDF would have to be transported from other parts of the country by road or possibly rail.

Conditional planning permission was given in October 2012. Tata fulfilled these conditions in 2017, and filed a planning variation application in 2018 to increase the power output to 90 MW (gross). This led to a number of objections, focused on potential extra traffic as waste is shipped to the site, and potential changes to the nature of the waste burned. Tata’s response to the objections – principally that the plant will simply be more efficient than originally planned – satisfied the government, which gave no objection to the extension in June 2018.

In March 2019, a deal was announced which will allow full construction to go ahead. Tata has agreed a deal with a consortium of companies. Under this, Lostock Sustainable Energy Plant Ltd will own, construct and operate the facility. LSEP is a joint venture between FFC Environment (the local waste collection company) and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Construction will be undertaken by a consortium headed by CNIM. The current plan is to have the new facility operating by the end of 2023.

This will be a full 13 years from the original planning application in 2010. Planning delays can be blamed for some of this. The 2018 extension of the plant’s power output is an interesting element. Tata has noted that new technologies rendered the original planning consent obsolete in this respect by 2018, as far greater power output can be achieved with the same inputs. In other words, the technology available to the market has moved far quicker than the planning process is able to allow. This claim has been widely disbelieved by opponents, who say that such a large power increase must be possible only with greater inputs or different inputs. That, on the face of it, is not an unreasonable assumption. Tata’s ability to demonstrate otherwise to the government suggests that this is an industry where what is possible has changed rapidly, since even 2012.

The other point to note is that Tata has not brought this project to its current state of development alone. Tata is not a specialist waste company and has had to assemble an international coalition of partners in order to bring the necessary expertise together. Such undertakings are never quick and not guaranteed to succeed, as indeed was originally the case with E.on in this example.

Finally, the Lostock site is already home to another major waste project. This is unrelated to the LSEP, although FCC Environment is also involved in the supply of waste. The Renescience plant is an MBT facility which sifts out recyclables and turns the remainder into either bioliquids for fuel/electricity generation, or RDF. The site is smaller, generating 6 MW, and has taken far less time to bring to fruition. Planning was granted in 2015 and construction work began a year later. After a short delay, the plant became operational in 2018.

Written by Andy Crofts, Chief Data Analyst.

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