Plans to extend Leeds City Council’s contract on its controversial waste incinerator have been dubbed “crazy” by campaigners.
The proposed 15-year extension announced by the authority comes as ambitious plans are being developed to harness the heat produced by the Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility (RERF), in Cross Green, over a 40-year period.
Operators of the RERF, Veolia, have asked the authority to extend the life of their lease of the site to run the waste burning facility for longer than its existing 25-year contract. The plant is to start processing waste in 2016.
The first phase of the heating scheme could see over 2,000 council flats in the city have their heat supplied direct before a wider network can be developed that could support public and private sector commercial buildings.
Councillors will examine plans to extend the lease and make a capital contribution to the plant’s development, which officers recommend and say could save millions on existing contracts, at an executive board meeting on Wednesday.
Simon Bowens, northern campaign leader at environmental group Friends of the Earth, led calls for the £550million plant during the planning process claiming burning waste is “outdated” and bad for the environment.
He said: “It’s an inflexible technology, you need to have that ‘x thousand’ tonnes of waste going into it to make it financially viable. Extending the lifetime of that type of thing by another 15 years is just crazy.”
Campaigners have previously voiced fears that as public awareness of recycling increases, the need for the plant will diminish while the council is tied into a lengthy contract.
Coun Mark Dobson, the council’s executive member for communities, said: “Extending the lease and making a capital contribution also allows us to save significant amounts of council taxpayers’ cash – around £3.7m a year – over the length of the contract. Our district heating network could make a real difference in our efforts to tackle fuel poverty by reducing energy bills for vulnerable residents by around 10 per cent.”
He added the project will also create construction and maintenance jobs and could stimulate further investment in the city.