March 7, 2010

Covanta's Secret Contract and Dodgy Dealings in Dublin?

"Massaging of reports by Matt Twomey, which were later, in their edited versions, released publicly, is a strong indicator to me of unacceptable influence in a process supposedly carried out in the public interest."    
Judge McKechnie, unapproved judgment.

“If the leaders of a society are not prepared to hold themselves accountable or there are not the institutions which are sufficiently independent to hold them accountable, then I think you have a very serious problem on your hands.” 

  • The institutional hearings into the Poolbeg Incinerator were not conducted in a fair and open way.  
  • The Poolbeg Incinerator hearings have been a charade with a predetermined outcome.
  • Vital information on the Poolbeg Incinerator was obfuscated and concealed.

This supposition is supported by the recent McKechnie judgment.  The McKechnie judgement is apparently not being appealed by DCC, who, according to RTE, have had costs estimated at €5,000,000  awarded against them, yet another waste of taxpayers’ money.

It is obvious from the Report that a great deal of underhand dealing has taken place during this process, and that the communities concerned, who have expended great time and effort in opposition, were certainly kept in the dark.

2006: Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG) was not prepared to continue the Poolbeg Incinerator project alone.
2007: Billionaire mogul Zell sold his massive residential and commercial real estate empire in 2007 for $39 billion. In 2007 Mr Zell owned $666 million of Covanta stock.

January 2007: Irish DONG was reconfigured with New Jersey's Covanta. Covanta kept a very low profile until after the public hearings.

May 2007:  Oral hearings by An Bord Pleanála were in session.

May 2007:  DCC and RPS repeatedly assured the oral hearings that waste would only be collected from the Dublin Region.

September 2007: The still secret  “put or pay” contract guarantee for 600,000 tonnes for Poolbeg Incinerator was concluded - signatories are unknown.  This is before the fully professional Bord Pleanala Inspector initially approved just 400,000 tonnes as being sufficient for Dublin.

November, 2007: After Bord Pleanála's Inspector had initially approved 400,000 tonnes didn't a cute wee man dressed up in an unacceptable influence suit come along? 
The board of Bord Pleanála contains at least one employee who formerly was employed at DCC's consulting company, RPS.  Planning permission was given by the board of Bord Pleanála for 600,000 tonnes.

February 2009:  Scott Whitney of Covanta: “[Covanta is] in Ireland to make money”.   Covanta intends to source waste ”throughout Ireland”.


“BURNING ISSUES” No. 4       

An Occasional Newsletter of happenings that affect the Poolbeg Incinerator Project, comprising the personal opinions and experiences of Maurice Bryan, technical adviser to CRAI.

This was the week when much of the conjecture about the infamous “most secret” contract suddenly became clear.  The clarity was provided by a document that came to hand which is a “Report to the Chairman and Members of the Environment and Engineering Strategic Policy Committee re Dublin Waste to Energy Project at Poolbeg” by DCC Assistant City Manager Seamus Lyons, dated 26th January last.  Everyone concerned with the implications of this project should take the trouble to read all six pages with great care.

The report gives a summary of the history of the project from its inception in 1996 to the present time. Much of this is already well known by those who have campaigned against it for so many years, so only the vital new parts will be highlighted here.

The Waste Strategy report of 1998 proposed that 25 percent of waste would be converted to energy and suggested a capacity for the incinerator of 750,000 tonnes per annum, which would have required total waste arisings from the Region of 3,000,000 tonnes, a ludicrous figure!  At the same time a Regional Steering Group was set up to implement the strategy which was said to have “gained broad political acceptance with the Elected Members, the general public and the media” (?)  The management plan was adopted by the elected member bodies of all four local authorities in the region, who can have had little or no idea of its full implications.

An “Invitation to Negotiate” was sent to four possible bidders in November 2003, and a “Project Board” was set up the following January, clearly dominated by DCC with no input from the other authorities. There was also a “Project Execution Board” whose membership is not stated. Only two compliant bids were received, one of whom withdrew in November 2004, leaving no choice of selection. The remaining bidder, Elsam of Denmark, continued in negotiation with DCC, and procurement was finalized in June 2005!  It was cleared by the NDFA in June of that year.
However during the negotiations Elsam was acquired by Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG) who were not prepared to continue the project alone, and in January 2007 their Irish entity was restructured to include the American firm Covanta.  Negotiations continued with the new firm “Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd.” and on 14th May 2007 approval was sought to finalise a contract with this consortium, which was eventually signed off on 4th September 2007, though again the signatories are unknown.

The provisions of this contract included a “put or pay” guarantee to the consortium, and the capacity was broken into three bands: (1) 320,000 tonnes (2) 60,000 tonnes and (3) 150,000-200,000 tonnes.  The local authorities would have sole rights to Band 1 capacity at a rate set below the market rate, linked to inflation.  They would have first right of access to Band 2 at market rate, and have standard commercial access to Band 3.  If the waste from the authorities falls below the Band 1 target there would be financial penalties, not operable if the total input exceeded 550,000 tonnes.

It should be noted that in May 2007 the oral hearings before the Inspector of An Bord Pleanala were in session, and planning permission was not issued until the following November, 2007!   In fact the inspector recommended that the capacity be reduced to 400,000 tonnes as it become obvious that the original target was grossly in excess of the needs of the Dublin Region, but was over-ruled by the Board who restored the 600,000 tonne capacity, as they obviously had to, given that a contract had already been signed, unbelievable as this may seem!

The reasons for this must be open to speculation, but given the recent statement by Mr. Scott Whitney of Covanta that “they were in Ireland to make money” and the current arrangement whereby Covanta intends to source waste ”throughout Ireland” (not yet defined), and the unwillingness of DONG to continue as sole constructor/operators it must be concluded that the high figure was needed to achieve economies of scale that would allow a palatable gate fee for the authorities. It has to be noted that DCC and RPS repeatedly assured the oral hearings that waste would only be collected from the Dublin Region, so that condition 4 of the planning permission now appears to have been breached! 

Whatever took place it is clear that the hearings were not conducted in a fair and open way, but were a charade with a predetermined outcome, and that vital information was obfuscated and concealed, which supposition is supported by the recent McKechnie judgment. (Incidentally this is apparently not being appealed by DCC, who, according to RTE, have had costs estimated at 5,000,000 euro awarded against them, yet another waste of taxpayers’ money).

It is obvious from the Report that a great deal of underhand dealing has taken place during this process, and that the communities concerned, who have expended great time and effort in opposition, were certainly kept in the dark. Indeed it seems fair to say that, had the real situation been exposed to the public enquiry, it would not have been possible for An Bord Pleanala to issue planning permission due to public outrage! This scandal must now merit proper investigation and the project should immediately be halted until and unless proper justification can be established by Independent Experts with full access to all the necessary data for its continuation.

As it stands it seems that the current situation is that all Irish families will see their waste charges rise by a significant amount (estimates at the hearings suggested multipliers of two or three) to provide profits for American stockholders!  Will this be allowed, and, if so why?



Listen to the interesting FM 98 DEBATE about the incinerator, featuring politicians and residents AT 7 P.M. ON MONDAY 8TH MARCH.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

U.S. Labour Board to Seek Injunction against Covanta Energy

In May 2008, 140 workers at SEMASS voted for union representation by Local 369. In the ensuing 18 months, efforts by these workers and their union to negotiate a labour contract have been frustrated by a battery of unfair labor practices committed by management, including by withholding nearly 11% of SEMASS employees’ pay in bonuses and wage increases because they formed a union.