Feeding the fire: EU money blocked for one Czech incinerator, yet more still in the pipeline
Bankwatch Mail | 8 October 2012
Back in August, the Czech Republic’s handling of municipal waste attracted criticism from the European Commission, when it was identified as one of several EU member states not doing enough to recycle as well as actually infringing European legislation.
This article is from Issue 53 of our quarterly newsletter Bankwatch Mail
Of these failing waste states, the Commission notes:
“Failings include poor or non-existent waste prevention policies, a lack of incentives to divert waste from landfills, and inadequate waste infrastructure. Heavy reliance on landfilling means that better waste management options such as re-use and recycling are consistently underexploited. The outlook is accordingly poor.”
This outlook will remain poor if the Czech Republic doesn’t start reconsidering its fondness for waste incinerators.
Bankwatch has campaigned – often successfully – against several such projects. The most recent success came in the Czech Republic in August with the announced abandonment of plans to develop the GBP 185 million Karvina municipal waste incinerator with support from EU funds allotted in the current EU programming period 2007-2013.
But while the project will not be moving forward at this stage, it’s not unlikely that Karvina will get another chance for EU funding support in the forthcoming programming period 2014-2020, since the current Czech government still proposes to favour incinerators over recycling.
The Karvina incinerator, officially called the Regional integrated centre for recovery of municipal waste in the Moravian-Silesian Region (in north-east Czech Republic), had been intended to be ready for operations in 2015. The promoter company is KIC Odpady, whose shareholders are the region and municipalities of Ostrava, Karviná, Havířov, Opava and Frýdek-Místek.
The project financing was heavily reliant on public money, in particular on EU Cohesion Policy money, a loan from the European Investment Bank, and regional and municipal budgets. Earlier this summer the European Commission deemed that it could only provide a 20 percent subsidy under Cohesion money for incinerator projects, while the promoters had been relying on a 40 percent figure – the CZK 1 billion shortfall has been a major factor behind the spiking of the project for now.
Another contributing factor has been a legal action brought by environmental groups, including Bankwatch member group Hnuti Duha, related to the planning of the incinerator. In January this year the Ostrava Regional Court issued a preliminary verdict that puts on hold the validity of the zoning and planning decision for the proposed incinerator site because a rare dragonfly species lives in the vicinity. Since a valid zoning and planning decision is necessary for the construction permit and also for the application for EU funding, the decision posed a serious roadblock for the project.
There are wider issues and question marks about the Karvina incinerator’s suitability that Hnuti Duha has raised and that continue to dog the project:
- The choice of incineration as a waste management option in the modified Czech National Waste Management Plan and the Regional Waste Management plan for the Moravian-Silesian Region has been controversial particularly as mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) of municipal waste has been identified in numerous studies as a more effective option. Indeed, the construction of a waste incinerator is viewed by some experts as a potential ‘lock-in’ option, preventing the development of separate collection and recycling.
- NGOs and experts are concerned about the quality of the project’s environmental impact assessment process, particularly over the insufficient assessment of alternatives and the coherence of the Karvina incinerator project with the waste management hierarchy.
- Moreover, the very design of the project includes the option of significantly scaling up its annual waste burning capacity of 192,000 tons per year. This potential expansion in the future contradicts the project’s environmental decision that stipulates that the capacity of an individual incinerator within a specific region or territory must not exceed half of the total annual production of municipal solid waste in that area.
According to Ivo Kropáček, waste campaigner for Hnuti Duha, “One major concern is that EU funds could thus be being lined up for future expansion of the Karvina incinerator. Yet there isn’t sufficient waste and there’s not going to be, unless of course there are plans to import waste from abroad.”
More smoke and mirrors
If the Czech government realises its plans to prioritise waste incineration over recycling, Karvina and similar projects will continue to be put forward for EU funding. A new Action plan for biomass, accepted by the Czech government just last month, sends all the wrong signals though. This document contains:
- A plan for increasing volumes of municipal solid waste (a 29 percent increase by 2020).
- A plan to stop increasing the recycling ratio of municipal solid waste.
- A plan to build incinerators to handle two million tons of municipal waste (there are currently three incinerators operating in the Czech Republic with capacity of only around 630,000 tons).
A sit down between the European Commission and the Czech Ministry of Environment also in September to discuss the country’s waste management performance did not bring any indications – at least in public – of improvements. Moreover, the last week of September saw the publication of the first draft of a new national waste management plan for 2013-2022. Contained in this document are controversial proposals to build incinerators – potentially 14 or more – to deal with 2.6 million tons of municipal waste. Hnuti Duha has already slammed these proposals as completely unrealistic as likely costs would amount to at least GBP 2.6 billion over eight years.
It can only be hoped that the Commission will maintain close scrutiny of these developments, and not incentivise more ill-conceived, unpopular projects with the promise of future EU funding.