Scotgen, a company that has been trying to commission a controversial new energy-from-waste plant in Dumfries since 2009, has told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that it is intending to go into administration.
At the same time, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is reviewing the plant’s authorisation to operate, following hundreds of pollution breaches, an explosion and a major fire. Since February, Sepa has slapped three legal notices on Scotgen requiring it to clean up its operations.
The most recent on 26 July ordered the company to remove partially burnt waste from the site left after the fire last month so that it didn’t stink or attract flies and rats. According to Sepa, Scotgen has so far failed to comply and its plant is not currently operating.
"Sepa is currently assessing Scotgen's overall performance with complying with the conditions of the permit,” said Ian Conroy, Sepa's technical support manager in the southwest. “We are currently considering the further action that is necessary to be taken with regards to recent events and the historical performance of the facility.”
According to Dr Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Dumfries plant now “looks doomed”. This was “bad news” for up to a dozen similar plants planned across Scotland, he argued.
“No community in Scotland can have confidence that any other company can do what Scotgen has repeatedly failed to do,” he said. “The failure of the Scotgen plant shows us that we should give up plans to burn waste and work much harder on recycling and avoiding waste in the first place.”
Other waste incinerators have been proposed in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Lothian, Perth, Aberdeenshire and Invergordon. Last week, the Scottish government rejected plans by Grundon Waste Management for an energy-from-waste plant in Perth.
Scotgen had planned a second plant at Dovesdale Farm near Stonehouse in South Lanarkshire, but withdrew it last year. John Young from the Dovesdale Action Group urged Sepa to close the Dumfries plant “before the public begins to lose faith in them to protect us and the environment.”
Scotgen may be hoping that it can find a company willing to take it over, with Waste To Energy Canada (WTEC) from Vancouver rumoured to be the favourite. But WTEC was cautious when asked to comment.
The Dumfries plant was “in a state of transition”, according to the WTEC’s chief executive, Rod Taylor. “WTEC has had significant interest in the plant in the past and we continue to monitor the plant's operation,” he said.
“What the end results of the current situation will be remains entirely unclear at this point. Sepa is reviewing the plant currently and their decisions will ultimately have an enormous bearing on what happens with the plant.”
Viridor, which is investing £500 million in waste infrastructure across Scotland, insisted that energy-from-waste plants were essential to deliver the Scottish government’s policy of “zero waste”. The company is building two major new facilities on Polmadie Road in Glasgow and at Dunbar in East Lothian, using different technology from that in Dumfries.
“Scotland needs confidence that next generation recycling and waste infrastructure is operating to the highest national and international standards, with robust action from regulators for non-compliance,” said Viridor’s external affairs manager, Martin Grey.
“Zero waste won’t happen without thermal treatment for residual waste,” he added. “The choice therefore isn’t recycling or energy from waste, but rather a firm focus on the former with a requirement for the latter.”