(This was written for the letters column of the JEP, really, and it goes back over some ground I covered in the blog last year. However, as my next letter, on a different subject, has already appeared, I don't think this will get used now. So as there is some new content, too, I shall put it on here, instead.)
We shall never achieve a world in which mistakes never happen, so we must seize our opportunities to put those that we make right, where we can. Thus, I am very glad to see Deputy Wimberley bringing a proposition that the States undo their blunder with the la Collette incinerator.
The first question to which there has been no satisfactory answer, is why will the planned la Collette cathedral of garbage be so huge? Just across the sea, at Taden in Brittany, they are successfully operating a 90, 000 tonne per year incinerator. To deal with the waste from a catchment of 250,000 people! What are the Council of Ministers intending to grow Jersey's population to during the life of this plant? Bellozanne may be too old and too crude, but, since the third stream was added, it has not faced the problem of being too small. Running the new one way under capacity means either stop/start, or constant underloading, neither of which will produce the clean, hot burn needed for good results. If incineration remains the way forward, let it be on the right scale, at least.
Of course, it is very doubtful whether mass incineration is still the optimum strategy for disposing of tens of thousands of tonnes of mixed waste per annum. Even with the world slump reducing demand and prices for materials in general, most things can be recycled more economically than they were originally created. There is a range of modular systems available that sort and clean, or clean and sort the recyclables, and power it all by processing the burnables into high efficiency fuel, either gas or solid pellets. And these systems fit into normal prefab industrial sheds, too. Best of all, they are around a quarter of the price of mass incinerators.
Which leads to the greatest defect of the la Collette project by far: The immense capital costs, of both the plant itself and the remodelling of the neighbourhood to accommodate it, wipe out any possibility of the economics making sense. About a year ago, I had an interesting and informative discussion with an industry insider. He quoted TTS's own reckoning that municipal waste was costing around £55/tonne to handle at 2007 prices. He also asserted to me that the whole waste operation could be privatised to an operator using a modular clean, sort and pyrolyse process for a charge of as little as £40/tonne, with the private operator making the rest of their money on the recycling. He then drew my attention to the financial implications of what was then expected to be an £80m cost. Updating that figure only makes the picture worse:
The headline cost of the main plant is now £106m, only, since it will be paid in Euros, and the exchange rate is likely to stay crashed for years to come, it will probably work out to something like £140m, or more. On top of that, there is the massive amount of civil engineering envisaged to make la Collette even suitable for the plant. At least another £100m, and maybe a lot more. Let us be optimistic and say £240m altogether. Still being optimistic, let us assume that the new incinerator will last 30 years. That equates to £8m/year. Then suppose all recycling targets fail badly, and we have 80,000 tonnes/year of waste to burn. That would make an effective cost of £100/tonne on top of the £55/tonne handling cost, totalling £155/tonne, against the £40/tonne modular plant operation.
If recycling initiatives do work here as they do elsewhere, the waste volume could easily fall to 40,000 tonnes/year of course, for a more realistic cost of £255/tonne of waste processed. All in all, about six times as expensive to use last century's technology as today's.
Fortunately, the Ministers most personally committed to the la Collette fiasco have now left office. The new House can therefore take the credit for putting a stop to it without losing face themselves. I hope for all of our sakes that they do so.