Hot air over Poolbeg

As I expected, nothing happened yesterday. Times, Indo, and Examiner have the same story: Neither party walked away from the contract to build an incinerator in Poolbeg; and Minister Gormley continues in his role as leader of the opposition.

Meanwhile, of course, construction has halted — depriving a bunch of people from a job — and fines for breaching the landfill target accumulate.

The deeper issue was mentioned in the Times: ‘[Mr Tierney] said the managers of the four Dublin local authorities had been put in an “impossible position”. They had been given the responsibility by Government to ensure waste policy was implemented but “at the 11th hour complete and utter uncertainty has been created”.’

Long-term investment requires regulatory certainty.

32 replies on “Hot air over Poolbeg”

AFL-CIO says Covanta “viciously punished these workers”.

So ESRI funded by the Drumcondra Mafia/DCC is now rolling out the jobs Big Lie, an untruth taken directly from DCC/RPS/Covanta PR agencies in Ireland.

And ESRI omits any mention of jobs killed in recycling (Florida). And ESRI omits any mention of Covanta’s record of breaking US laws (dioxins; ammonia/PM2.5s; jobs; etc). And ESRI omits DCC’s massaging of RPS reports and undue influence in a public process (Judge McKechnie) and blackmail threats from a hidden contract. Perhaps someone should forward the dodgy contract to WikiLeaks. ESRI also omits that EPA has still not decided nor specified what pollutants will be measured nor how often nor how.


Covanta and Jobs.

” … Covanta viciously punished these workers”.

“This ruling lets the rest of the world know that, without question, that Covanta broke the law and will have to put things right.”

Gary P. Sullivan, AFL-CIO. March 2010.


Judge: Covanta, SEMASS violated workers’ rights

By Staff reports
Herald News Staff
Posted Mar 29, 2010 @ 11:59 AM

A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge has found that Covanta Energy Corporation/SEMASS is guilty of numerous federal labor law violations, including withholding nearly $1 million in bonuses and wage increases from 140 workers at a plant in Wareham.


Long-term investment also requires good value.

No cost benefit analysis of this project has been provided.

What little we can glean does not bode well for those who pay.

And we will be locked into a bad deal for 25 or 30 years.


PS Can you supply some basis for your assertion above that fines are accumulating?

@ Richard

Yet again the red herring of landfill targets is being quoted. It is utterley evident with the recent stats appearing in the public environment for landfill figures (-30% nationally and -50% regionally) that we will not fall fowl of these charges, so please stop scaremongering when you are evidently incorrect in this assumption.

As for jobs – 60 with Covanta versus potentailly 600 in recycling – more whittering.

Inward investment – while the figure seems to change by the day – I’ve heard €350m up to €600m – what ever the capital investment will be, at least two thirds of it will be to foreign engineering firms – boiler manufacturers in Germany et al. All that will happen in Ireland is that we will use the last of our good Polish labourers to pore the concrete slabs and then our EU neighbour’s fitters will arrive by plane to bolt the kit to the ground – and promptly then leave again. At least recycling kit can be sourced and supplied by a range of Irish companies. So this is a lame duck item to role out as well.

I agree that the County Manager is in a difficult position – but so is everyone else in this country, just because it took the Corporation 13 years and somewhere between €100m and €200m to get here doesn’t make it correct to proceed at this stage. Policy has changed, the Waste Hierarchy has been put into law – not on the horizon in 1997 – so get on with the changed reality and do not put a millstone around the neck of the country. Build for the changed reality not yesterdays possible reality.

And finally I have checked the ESRI predictions for 2008 waste arisings that were made in 2009 and they seem to be well off the mark i.e. substantially less then predited by the ESRI.

Could I use this post to request that Prof Tol update his posts from January regarding Rajenda Pachauri of the IPCC in light of today’s blog from George Monbiot in the Guardian, which states that:

[QUOTE]…the story was untrue. It’s not just that Pachauri hadn’t been profiting from the help he has given to charities, businesses and institutions, his accounts show that he is scrupulous to the point of self-denial. After the Sunday Telegraph published its story, the organisation for which Pachauri works – a charity called The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) – asked the auditors KPMG to review his financial relationships. KPMG studied all Pachauri’s financial records, accounts and tax returns, as well as TERI’s accounts, for the period 1 April 2008 – 31 December 2009. It found that any money paid as a result of the work that Pachauri had done for other organisations went not to him but to TERI. None of the money was paid back to him by TERI: he received only his annual salary, which is £45,000.[/QUOTE]

I ask, given Prof Tol’s statement at the time that:

[QUOTE]Under normal conflict of interest rules as followed by other leading scientific advisory institutions, Mr. Pachauri would no longer be tolerable as the IPCC’s chairperson.[/QUOTE]

The Sunday Telegraph has now pulled the original story of North’s, whose blog Prof Tol linked to on this site, and apologised. Furthermore Mr Monbiot reproduces a quote from North’s blog from February: “Pachauri is on the ropes but he ain’t down yet. The view is it will take one more ‘killer blow’ to fell him .. and it looks as if its been found! … R K Pachauri needs to be acquainted with the first rule of politics – DFWN … since it is a family blog, you’ll have to work it out for yourselves.” DFWN standing for ‘Don’t Fuck With North.

The article is just another in the long list of subsequent exposes of the smear tactics of right wing Climate Change denialists. But who cares when the truth comes out months after the damage is done?…

The current Dublin City Council Manager, John Tierney stated that uncertainty had arrived at the 11th hour – does that mean there was/is still time to do something, to take some stock, was there time to postpone signing the contract until there was more certainty? At the 11th hour generally means: almost – but not late or the latest possible time. I know we are where we are, but I would like to know more about how we got here. What role did previous Ministers for the Environment have in the situation we now find ourselves in? Could Mr Tierney have held off on signing the contract with Covanta? Many will say this will not help us deal with the current situation, but I think it may be important to review the mind set that led to us to where we are now.

I used to live in Dublin which is a very dirty place by any standards. A solution to at least get rid of the epidemic of rubbish that pervades the Capital city is being held up by the actions or inactions of a Government Minister. There is nothing inherently wrong with an incinerator which is everyday technology in a lot of cities in the EC which maybe explains why their cities are much cleaner than Dublin. The only problem in our case is that the Minister’s constituency is a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) and he expects the rest of the Taxpayers of Ireland to pay for his behaviour. Just when will Cowen stand up and be a Leader of this country and say enough is enough.


My understanding is that the objection isn’t to incineration per say – it’s more to do with the fact that it is such a large incinerator that it will crowd out opportunities for domestic waste companies that may provide better treatment options. It also is so big that it will dominate Irish waste policy for up to 25 years. By guaranteeing waste amounts at what some might say is a high level it doesn’t help to promote recycling and reducing waste. As for NIMBYism – I think John Gormley and the Green Party would oppose this plant in any constituency it just so happens it is in his constituency and therefore he is even more adamant to oppose it, as he has done for years. And it annoys me that an unelected official, the Dublin City Council manager entered into this contract with Covanta even though the new Minister for the Environment had let Dublin City Council know that waste policy was going to be reviewed and a cap placed on incineration. Would it not have been prudent to hold off on signing the contract given that there was such a change in the Ministerial position on environmental matters? Or did the unelected County Manager think he knew best? Anyway, there just a few of my tuppence ha’pennies on the matter, I am happy to be corrected or convinced otherwise on any points.

Waste policy was placed in the hands of an unelected official exactly to prevent the current situation in which short-term political considerations override the long-term interests of the country.

@Holbrook Fields – surely the key question is the relative cost of different approaches – I have no idea which one is cheaper, but no doubt there are returns to scale in incineration, which would explain the size of the proposed plant. Whenver decisions are taken on ideological grounds (or purely local electoral grounds), as I suspect they have been by John Gormley, the costs to Joe and Josephine Soap are not a consideration.

@ All,

I really think we can get caught up in the weeds in discussion about how many cents in the euro the subordinated Anglo debt is valued at. When we should endeavour to discuss more frequently, how much out of a €10 note, the banking bailout as a whole, will deliver in terms of value. Apologises to Karl Whelan for semi hi-jacking his thread, which serves a very useful purpose in relation to a very specific subject on Anglo Irish bank. But I guess part of the issue with Anglo Irish, is a political debate about – how much of the resolution strategy should be led by member state policy – and how much is led by central EU supervision. BOH.

[split post, to include second link]

I only wish to highlight the fact, that with capital spending programs, which Ireland will have to borrow the finance in the coming years, there are also questions about governance. Conor Skehan would argue for a more regional top down approach, instead of the current one, which works from the bottom with local councils. I tried to make some points recently on Michael Moore’s thread on Ricardian Equivalency, about local versus centralised governments and taxation. BOH.

@ All,

One more link might be useful to put this whole thing into context. If one accepts the argument by Conor Shekan, for the regional planning system, driving those at lower levels – with the local authority at the very bottom – then how do we account for little quangos such as the DDDA which operate even beneath the level occupied by a local authority?

The DDDA really is an example of the madness that Conor Shekan talks about in his published paper Twice the Size. We do need to invert the entire process, and establish planning quangos to management development at the regional spatial level – rather than wasting ‘billuns’ trying to drive planning policy at the sub-local authority level – with quango agencies such as the DDDA.

Having said that, there might be less wrong with quangos than we seem to think at the moment. I referred to the broader historical perspective in a recent post of mine at the Irish Economy blog. BOH.


thanks for taking the time to converse on the topic. Some might argue that John Gormley is fighting for the long term interest of the country and that Mr Tierney is acting for short term political considerations. And is it really the case that the Dublin City Council Manager, John Tierney, a man who I know very little about, but who holds an enormous amount of power in the city that I live, has control over waste policy? Is it true to say that? Does the sitting Minister of the Environment of the day, one of the first Green Party ministers in Ireland not have any say over waste policy? is that not what he was elected for?

@ scorpio – that’s a good question about costs, and that’s been part of the argument, are we better off handing over a lot of money for the incinerator and paying penalties we might be due for if we do not provide enough waste to that incinerator, or letting smaller independent niche operators gain expertise in this area which could grow a home industry with the potential for overseas growth. i was watching a bit of msnbc yesterday and they had an investment guy on to talk about investing in ‘water’ he commented that a lot of the growth in clean tech won’t be from big traditional utility companies but will come from smaller niche players. i think the same could apply in waste. we could grow an indigenous waste management industry who then gain a foothold in asian markets. some will laugh at that and say we have no record in that area – but is that a reason to think it cannot happen? to not give that a chance to happen?

Under the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 the making of waste management plans became an executive function of the local authority – this means that the county or city manager has the power to make the plan.

The council do not appoint the city manager but may with the consent of the Minister call for his removal:

As it stands, the plans for the incinerator are fully consistent with national waste policy. Although Minister Gormley has been in office for three years now, waste policy is unchanged. The minister has launched a few consultations on waste — the first step to changing policy — but that’s all.

Even if the Minister succeeds in changing national waste policy before the next election, then it would not apply retroactively.


Thanks very much for taking the time to provide me with this information. I could easily try to look up all this stuff my self but I get lazy with these things and having a professor provide points of information to me is what makes the internet, and this blog, the brilliant thing that it is. Genuinely, while I am often skeptical of the views you hold, I do appreciate the time you give online. What next gets me thinking is whether the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 (WMAA, 2001) is fit for purpose or has it lead to a situation where one council and city manager can detrimentally effect national waste policy on a massive scale. I don’t expect a response by the way, I’m just musing out loud.

Richard, I think you have misundersood the problem of regulatory uncertainty in relation to infrastructure investment and in particular this infrastructure investment.

Usually this problem happens when for example, a nuclear power company considers building a plant in a country, and there is a fear that the country will then change the tax and other treatment of the plant, or where a bus operator considers developing a route, but fears that once the route is established, that the government which granted it a licence, will subsidise another company to run services in the same area at a cheaper price, thereby undermining the operator. As a result there is a fear that the original investment will not result in a fair return, and so the business case is undermined.

In the current case, the question of uncertainty does not arise for the obvious reason that the infrastructure has not been built yet and no service is being provided. Additionally, the issue is not one of trying to gouge the provider, but the government determining the best financial way forward for itself. There is no question but that Covanta will be compensated for any loss.

This is commercial uncertainty not regulatory uncertainty. Commercial uncertainty, i.e., customers’ proclivity to decide not to buy stuff or to legitimately invoke cancellation clauses, is unfortunately a fact of life in all business.

Just as Dublin City Council has to accept that my (treacherous) neighbour switched rubbish collections to Key Waste, Covanta would have to accept the fact that DCC lawfully decided not to go ahead. It has no reason for complaint, and no moral position to get high and mighty about it.

Does anyone know where/if we can find out how loss making the current waste managment operations carried out by Dublin and Fingal county council?

In Dunlaoighaire Rathdown the council has withdrawn from waste managment becuase it was loss making.
” In a statement, the Council said it currently has about 18,500 customers, down from 64,000 in 2006, and the net cost of maintaining the service was estimated at €3.5m in 2010.”

Below is the quantity of waste sent to landfill from the 4 Dublin local authorities since 2006 and my estimate for 2010. The trend is clear.
(Figures from annual reports)

2006 148,317 64,252 59,438 Couldn’t find
2007 138,861 61,216 63,133 Couldn’t find
2008 121,017 54,458 59,452 29,490
2009 104,694 37,789 43,471* Couldn’t find
2010 85,000** 25,000** 30,000** Don’t know Total 2010: 140,000**
2011 70,000 20,000 22,000 0*** Total 2011: 112,000**

* up to end of october 2009
**my best estimate
*** DLRCC have pulled out of waste business because of losses and competition.

If anyone thinks my estimates are unrealistic then please post your own and we can compare as it unfolds.

The trend is clear and started before the economic crash. Panda, Greenstar, and others are out competeing the local authorities all over the country and will get stuck into DCC in the next few years. DCC is committing to being the last real bastion of local authority waste collectors for the next 25 years whether it has to carry massive losses or not.

These are the real numbers that will be on the minds of DCC managers until next spring.

Oxygen, Thorntons, Greenstar, and Panda are all investing heavily in their own waste disposal infrastructure, so will not send their waste to the incinerator.

DCC is certainly doing its bit for the landfill targets!!


“There are figures here to support the assertion that fines are accumulating.”

Not so. That DKM paper refers to the mechanism for calculating fines should they arise. It says nothing at all about actual breaches of the Directive.

We cannot find a single case of an actual fine (and we’ve looked pretty hard).

Could you supply one?


No, nothing on actual fines. As I understand it the date for compliance is 2010, after which fines will start to accumulate. They might not be paid for years. However, if there is insufficient capacity to reduce waste to landfill now, it seems unlikely that it will appear by the end of the year. Thus it is reasonable to discuss with relative certainty the potential fines Ireland might face over the short to medium term. I think.

Fines depend on the annual amount, and will be based on the final estimates. The actual fines will not be determined before 2012 — that is, our green friends will be able to say that no landfill fine was paid while they were in office.

If you look at the raw numbers for 2009 and the preliminary numbers for 2010, you note that the liability is accumulating.

By the way, the official waste numbers do not come from a blogger called Sam or Conor; nor from the IWMA; nor from the Green Party. The numbers come from the EPA.

“By the way, the official waste numbers do not come from a blogger called Sam or Conor; nor from the IWMA; nor from the Green Party. The numbers come from the EPA.”

One might add that they don’t come from the ESRI.

By the way, any discussion about whether or not we’re going to meet our 2010 target is irrelevant to Poolbeg, as it was never going to contribute to meeting that target in any case. 2013 and 2016 are the relevant dates.

My data came from the annual reports of DCC, SDCC, FCC. This is the waste that DCC control.

The EPA do indeed compile the data, and some excellent and very ‘can do’ individuals in the EPA have taken charge of the Landfill Directive targets. They are monitoring the waste to landfill monthly and will review the licences capping the TOTAL quantity of BMW (biodegradable municpal waste) landfilled. They control them all, so have taken on the responsibility.

”However, if there is insufficient capacity to reduce waste to landfill now, it seems unlikely that it will appear by the end of the year. Thus it is reasonable to discuss with relative certainty the potential fines Ireland might face over the short to medium term. I think”.

But there is plenty of capacity. I have gone into some detail prevously with regard biological treatment capacity newly developed, expansion, or achieving animal by-products approval (required for BMW treatment). Indeed there is so much capacity that gate fees have fallen because of over capacity.
Source Segregation (i.e Brown Bin collection in place) is considered a form of treatment under the Landfill Directive. It is reducing the biological municipal waste (BMW) going to landfill that is relevant to the landfill directive. Brown Bin is being implemented widespread across the country with the introduction of the WM (food waste) Regs in July and will go to all households next year with new draft regs being introduced around Christmas.

DCC are currently tendering out the disposal of their residual waste (as an interim measure, they say) and even say themselves in the tender docs. that the waste can be landfilled in full compliance with the landfill directive.

There is huge changes going on in the waste industry at the moment that DCC and ERSI pen pushers seem oblivious to.

There is no demand for the incinerator among anyone in the waste industry, they are developing there own infrastructure (including Indaver incinerator in Meath). The local authorities of Dublin’s waste businesses are collapsing dramatically so they will have no waste to send to the incinerator (other than sewage sludge and road sweepings which have little energy potential) unless they operate at an even greater loss than they currently do.
Things are changing quicker that the ERSI get the statistics (as Conor pointed out they cannot even predict the past let alone the future). Would the ERSI have predicted the Dunlaoghaire Rathdown who had 64,000 customers in 2006 would have none now.
How many customers will DCC, FCC, and SDCC have in 2014?, how many tonnes will they control? These are big unknowns, but when DCC signed the contract they believed they had monopoly. Now they have to be concerned (if they care that is) that their business will go the way of DRCC’s

Can I retract and appologise for that ‘pen pusher’ slur above. Stupid expression anyway, and I have respect for you on Climate and Energy policy and the fact that you engage.

I do have a tendency to rant and not review.

@ Richard,
Very good, much better than the on that score than the EPA who still require 1 original paper copy and 2 paper copies of everything.
Not very environmentally aware!

I do not understand how Covanta are going to provide district heating for 80,000 homes. District heating systems need to be designed into devlopments from an early stage. Effectively one would need 80,000 new homes to be designed and built within piping distance of the plant and for the legal structures of such developments to provide for District Heating.

Also, there are huge legal impediments. It is ok in other continental EU states where common facilities within apartments are owned municipally. That does not apply here. There is a marked difference between the civil law jurisdictions and municipally managed housing of continental europe on the one hand and the common law jurisdictions and privately managed housing in Ireland and the UK on the other hand when it comes to levels of implementation of district heating systems for private residential schemes.

Logistically, we cannot retrofit apartment blocks owned by management companies because the upfront cost must be funded by the residents and the apartment leases likely cannot force co-operation. Covanta may offer to bear the up-front costs on a development by development basis (thereby operating as municipal authority should except with private commercial goals) with an ad hoc legal structure. However, that is arduaous and uncertain. How long will it take?

Obviously, serious legal reform of this area is desirable. One could say it is urgently needed in fact. In the meantime, Covanta’s claims that they will provide district heating to 80,000 homes are highly questionable.

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