Suez, the French utility, is to invest more than £100m in a new energy-from-waste power station in the north-east of England as it seeks to capitalise on the growing demand for alternative ways in which to process waste.
The company plans to build a new plant near Billingham in Stockton-on-Tees which will serve the public sector as well as commercial customers in the north-east and Scotland. Once operational in 2022, the plant will generate about 25MW of electricity, enough to power the equivalent of roughly 30,000 households. It will have enough capacity to process 200,000 tonnes of residual — non-recyclable — waste a year.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez recycling and recovery in the UK, said the UK “has a shortfall in vital, non-landfill waste-treatment capacity”.
The amount of available landfill space in the UK has fallen dramatically in recent years. Tax levies have been successful in shifting waste materials away from landfill — and into energy from waste facilities — but the industry says the decline in landfill has outpaced the delivery of alternative infrastructure. The UK had thousands of landfill sites in the 1990s but by 2020 it is estimated there will only be about 50.
Suez already operates several other energy-from-waste facilities in, among other places, Suffolk and Cornwall.
The investment will go ahead despite the uncertainty over the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU at the end of next March. Mr Palmer-Jones said Suez was making preparations for a hard Brexit and was “scenario planning” for “the risk that we, as an industry, are forced to re-shore the 3.5m tonnes of residual waste that the UK exports to northern Europe”.
While it remained in the interests of both Britain and its EU neighbours to continue to “trade freely” in waste resources, Mr Palmer-Jones warned that the UK had “insufficient infrastructure and rapidly reducing landfill capacity, particularly in the south-east, to handle an abrupt influx of 3.5m tonnes more waste”.
In such a scenario, he added, the limited landfill space in the south-east would be filled quickly and result in its transport northwards to seek alternative landfill.
“At worst we could see up to 400 large truck loads a day, seven days a week, clogging up our roads hauling waste to landfill. Most of the extra traffic will hit the main road arteries running from London and the south-east heading to the Midlands and north,” he said.
This article has been corrected: the new plant in Stockton-on-Tees will generate about 25MW of electricity, not 25GW.