08 May, 2023
Non-recyclable rubbish transmuting into energy seems like an ideal answer to the world’s war with waste, and was a subject explored by elected members at a recent Kaipara District Council [KDC] meeting.
A ‘notice of motion’ by deputy mayor Cr Jonathan Larsen to enable council staff to start researching the possibility of establishing a waste-to-energy plant in Kaipara, was carried on April 26. The investigation into the logistics of the formidable project will be conducted in alliance with Whangarei, Far North and Auckland Council [AC], Te Uri o Hau, industry operators and Northland’s economic development agency, Northland Inc.
Modern waste-to-energy technology now allows very clean disposal of unrecyclable waste resulting in the production of energy in the form of steam or electricity and a variety of valuable by-products. This technology is now well-established in Europe and is proceeding in other parts of the world including Australia.
Disposal of waste has been an incessant hot topic highlighted by the ongoing community fight to stop the controversial Dome Valley dump Cr Larsen says, and while KDC have been part of the appeal against the facility due to the potential of seeping waste affecting Kaipara harbour, ‘we continue to send our own rubbish to landfill and have not advanced a viable alternative.’
“I think the time is right now to harness this very modern and clean technology which takes unrecyclable waste and produces energy in the form of steam or electricity and valuable by-products,” he says.
“This motion allows us to start investigating a solution for the whole of Northland and Auckland, and to collectively have a solution to deal with our waste, where we’re not leaving future generations a legacy of landfills which have potential to fail and have leachate going into groundwater for years to come.
“We need to get this conversation started and looking at possible options in conjunction with our partners.”
The motion received a majority of support from the elected members, including mayor Craig Jepson who was ‘very much in favour’ and had already discussed the project with fellow Northland mayors Vince Cocurullo (Whangarei) and Moko Tepania (Far North) as well as Wayne Brown (Auckland). He says although they are not ready to commit to the project, they ‘are all extremely happy to look at the options.’
“The time has come in this country where we need to move into the next century with our rubbish disposal,” says Jepson. “Overseas the recycling levels are quite high in conjunction with waste energy but the principle argument from the green movement is, if you build it you’re going to have to feed it. However Dome Valley applicants have spent $50 million, do you think they’re going to build that without thinking they’re going to get the waste?
“This is an opportunity to do something far better, in terms of recovering the energy and the by-products such as ash made into aggregates. I worked on a plant in Nice, France, I could put my camera on the chimney and couldn’t tell if it was operating as it was so clean in terms of emissions… it’s a very controllable situation compared to the uncertainties we experience in landfills.”
While agreeing the idea ‘is very pertinent and of use to everyone’, Cr Ash Nayyar raised the issue of sharing expenses between councils, in regards to potential consultants who may be engaged to look at the viability of the project. Cr Larsen says a cost sharing arrangement between the four councils would need to be agreed on ‘further down the track,’ and there potentially could be funding from a private sector partner if one is involved.
“I’m not suggesting any engagements or costs at this stage because we can rely on the intellectual property and expertise of operators who are already in the country trying to set these plants up,” he says.
“Obviously we need an economy of scale to put in such a major piece of infrastructure. Auckland and Northland are the perfect size and we also have a rail route running right through the middle of all these councils, which would allow us to come to a central point in a remote location that’s going to give the optimal economies of transportation relative to the amount of rubbish coming from the various locations.”
Admitting she was in two minds about the motion due to the council’s limited resources and critical needs throughout the district, Cr Wilson-Collins says a waste-to-energy plant does not address the amount of waste being produced, and thinks there is a lot more society ‘and us as a council could be doing to refuse, reuse and reduce waste in our community.’
“I feel that our community is begging us to look at supporting them with other projects, so that makes it very difficult at this point in time when we are trying to keep rates increases to such a minimal level, to take on another project,” she says.
“I think as little as possible resources should be put into this on our part and bigger councils like Auckland Council should be leading as they possibly have the resources to push forward with an investigation.”
However, Cr Gordon Lambeth had a different view saying ‘build and they will come.’
“Auckland’s got a problem, we’ve got the solution. I believe this is a great opportunity, economically for the council. We could sponsor all of our waste recovery in this district just with the profit that we’re going to make from the other councils who haven’t been so forward-thinking,” he says.
“We have the opportunity, we have the land and the infrastructure, everything’s in place… think we would regret for the rest of our lives if we didn’t at least have a look at it.”
In rounding up the discussion, Cr Larsen says that despite the greatest intentions of the community to reduce waste, unless ‘the entire societal structure changes, we still have to keep disposing of it in some way.’
“I don’t think that any amount of social education or engineering is going to end up with a situation where we don’t have waste to deal with,” he says. “This is a high-level proposal to just get the conversation started and if it can provide a solution for Kaipara, Whangarei and the Far North, and we all collectively could work together, what a great outcome that would be.”
A report including the preliminary investigations on the viability of the waste-to-energy plant is scheduled to be presented at a council workshop in June.
“I think the time is right now to harness this very modern and clean technology which takes unrecyclable waste and produces energy…”
- Cr Jonathan Larsen
“I feel that our community is begging us to look at supporting them with other projects…”
- Cr Eryn Wilson-Collins
An artist’s impression of Project Kea, a private energy-from-waste initiative looking to build in Glenavy, South Canterbury. The project is currently mired in the consent process. IMAGE/PROJECT KEA