26 December 2004
|Judge Rejects Ingenious Recycling of Scots Sewage
In August I reported a bizarre case brought by Scottish Power before the highest
court in Scotland, over its use of sewage to generate electricity. In 2000, at a cost of
£65million, Scottish Water had built a plant at Daldowie, near Glasgow, to process
half of Scotland's sewage into fuel pellets. These are used as a coal substitute by
the giant Longannet power station in Fife to produce enough "carbon-neutral"
electricity to power 30,000 homes.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) had approved this scheme as
an ingenious and environmentally beneficial way to deal with the problem of
Scotland's sewage. But this year, to general astonishment, Sepa decided that, as
from December, it would become illegal under new EC rules. Sewage could no
longer be recycled as fuel, but could only be disposed of as "waste".
This would naturally create huge problems, not least for Scottish Water. Its
£65million Daldowie plant would have to close. And finding any other means to
dispose of the sewage would now be extremely difficult, since, under a different set
of EC rules, it can no longer be landfilled, used as fertiliser or dumped at sea, where
it used to provide food for fish.
Scottish Power therefore sought judicial review of what appeared to be an insane
decision, pleading that the European Commission now emphasises that it wants to
see waste recycled to produce energy. A judgment had been expected in
September, but in fact it was only last Wednesday that the judge, Lord Reed, finally
came up with his ruling.
Lord Reed fully upheld Sepa's interpretation of EC law. However, he went further,
pointing out that burning sewage could create pollution from heavy metals (an
argument that not even Sepa's lawyers had thought to make).
There are, at least, grounds for appeal. If that should fail, almost the only means left
to Scottish Water to dispose of sewage will be to have it incinerated, at a cost of
hundreds of millions of pounds. In other words, it is all right to burn it, but only in a
way which produces nothing useful.
Well done, Sepa and Lord Reed. And well done Brussels, for bringing us yet another
of those "envronmental benefits" which Margaret Beckett likes to argue are the chief
reason why we should all vote for the new EU constitution.