Environmental offender given green light in Western Cape.
The quiet Boland town of Wellington - known for its vistas, wine, heritage and brandy - could soon add a waste-to-energy plant to its tourist attractions.
Operated by known environmental offender Interwaste (see noses178,194 & 209) the plant turns trash into gas for powering turbines that feed the electricity grid. The facility, which falls within the Drakenstein Municipality, obtained the environmental authorisation on 2 November to build a waste-to-energy plant, including a waste incineration facility.
But ironically, while the Department of Environmental Affairs handed Interwaste the keys to operate the Wellington plant, the very next day they were ordering them to padlock their FG Landfill site near Olifantsfontein in Midrand, citing major environmental effects including adverse health problems affecting nearby communities.
In December 2015 Noseweek reported on the FG Landfill. We reported that it was not only humans suffering the effects of FG Landfill's stink, but the local wildlife too, with birds dying and horses coughing. Residents told Noseweek at the time that they were convinced Interwaste was the source of their problems.
Interwaste blamed the smell on "aeration". CEO Alan Willcocks said in a statement that the bad whiff was the result of "food waste and waste from the food and beverage industry".
"Interwaste is diverting in excess of 1,000 tonnes of this kind of waste per month to a facility that uses it for the electricity generation through an anaerobic digestion process," wrote Willcocks.
But the authorisation for the Wellington plant allows Interwaste to build and operate a facility similar in many ways to the FG Landfill. It will accept large volumes of waste - more than the local municipality could provide alone, and will generate between 10 and 20 megawatts of electricity to be fed into the grid in peak times.
The authorisation states that the proposed facility will include an "anaerobic digester and direct combustion plants" and that Interwaste will sell the power to the Drakenstein Municipality. The plant will generate this energy by extracting methane and biogas from a variety of waste to generate power during peak demand. Much of this gas will be stored for up to 19 hours a day under pressure.
Except there is a slight problem. The municipality terminated its involvement in the proposed waste-toenergy project on 31 May 2018 after a full municipal council meeting and resolved to "seek a negotiated settlement with Interwaste to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)" and to settle the "litigation against the Wellington Association Against the Incinerator (WAAI) - a local lobby group.
They said their decision was taken following "a decade of research, analysis and evaluation of waste-to-energy solution proposals, complaints and resistance by certain interest groups".
The council informed Environmental Affairs on 13 June 2018 of their decision. It is unclear why the application went ahead.
On 29 November the municipality said on its Facebook page that it "takes note of the [department's] decision" and that the "approval granted to Interwaste does not affect" their May council decision.
The project has a long history, having first been proposed in 2008, with Interwaste selected as the preferred bidder in June 2011. An MoU was signed the following year. It was recognised that the municipality's own landfill was filling up quickly and was expected to reach capacity in 2017 - or perhaps a little later with the correct management system in place. Wellington council records state that it was decided the only way that the plant would be affordable was if waste - a minimum of 6,500 tonnes a month - was imported from elsewhere.
Despite strong opposition from the community, Interwaste has made no statement since the authorisation.
Wellington Association Against the Incinerator spokesman Keith Roman called the decision by the environmental department "highly irregular" and further noted that the facility was to be built on what had been successfully claimed by the "Sakkieskamp Land Claimants".
He said key stakeholders had not been meaningfully engaged and had not been provided with critical information, such as the specifications of the waste incinerator; the project has very serious financial, environmental, health, and socio-economic consequences and we are shocked that the DEA approved this very poor EIA with major omissions," said Roman.
He said Interwaste's claims that they were unaware of the municipality's decision would not hold - as his organisation had told Larry Eichstadt, from Resource Management Services (RMS) which carried out the EIA study for Interwaste.
"Although the DEA decision is disappointing, it is not surprising given the waste industry's extensive lobbying. WAAI is going to appeal the DEA decision as we have a very strong case," said Roman, adding that likeminded environmental organisations such as Groundwork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Earthlife, WWF, Greenpeace, and others will likely join their cause.
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