EXCLUSIVE by DOUG COLLIE
Councillors in the Scottish Borders sanctioned a £23 million project in 2012 to deal with the region's municipal waste several years after the publication of highly respected research which warned the technology was risky, potentially hazardous, and dangerous to health.
The Borders scheme, which was abandoned after at least £2.4 million of taxpayers' cash was lost, features in a recently completed research project by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) representing 800 grass roots groups in 90 countries.
It would appear members of Scottish Borders Council (SBC) either ignored separately produced strong criticisms of a process known as pyrolysis and gasification or were not made aware of the dangers before amending a deal with contractors New Earth Solutions to build a plant incorporating the technologies at Easter Langlee on the outskirts of Galashiels.
Lead authors of the GAIA report Neil Tangri and Monica Wilson conclude that even in 2017 "the potential returns on waste gasification are smaller and more uncertain, and the risks much higher, than proponents claim". It surely begs the question what were the potential returns five years ago when Borders signed on the dotted line.
The new research uncovered the fact that over $2 billion had been invested in the projects listed in their report alone, all of which closed or were cancelled before commencing operations.
It is not entirely clear why SBC, which signed up for the development of a conventional compost producing plant in 2011, 'upgraded' to the completely unproven pyrolysis model just a year later by way of a so-called contract variation.
The decision to change horses in mid-stream may or may not become known after the authority releases confidential information relating to the disastrous saga on the orders of the Scottish Information Commissioner.
GAIA point out that in 2008 - just as SBC was starting their procurement process - a US study for a government agency surveyed a large range of gasification technologies and found the processes were unproven on a commercial scale for treating municipal solid waste.
It also found that solid and liquid residuals might be hazardous, and furthermore, that the technologies required pre-treatment of waste and were more expensive than conventional incineration or landfilling.
The new report also points out that in 2006 the UK Government's Department for Environment began a new technologies demonstrator programme to overcome the perceived risks of implementing new technologies in England and to provide accurate and impartial technical, environmental and economic data.
The programme was meant to spend £32 million on 10 projects. Resulting projects were subsequently evaluated and found to be largely unsuccessful. All four pyrolysis and gasification projects hit major snags; two of them did not even proceed to operational status. A third was unable to run long enough to study the process and was closed down while the fourth has not yet been completed.
Then in 2010 a report by the German development agency on the subject concluded that severe challenges were unsolved, specifically "There is no reliable technology readily available. High costs for technical development, repair and maintenance make it unprofitable. Dangerous threats exist to the environment and health due to carcinogenic waste".
GAIA say in their report: "Existing data does show that dozens of projects have failed for a variety of technical and financial reasons. These failures highlight a widespread inability to meet projected energy generation and emission targets, or to simply maintain consistent operation.
The document catalogues notable failed projects in Canada, USA and Europe, including the UK.
A section dealing with New Earth Solutions, the company selected as waste management champions by Borders councillors,points out the now bankrupt business was associated with six failed or abandoned gasification projects.
In 2016 NES disclosed that it would be unable to pay £9 million to unsecured creditors. It also had bank debts of more than £50 million.
GAIA add: "Local governments were also impacted financially: the failure of one of the New Earth Solutions projects cost the Scottish Borders Council at least £2.4 million."