May 30, 2023

Heat from waste incinerator could be used to grow tonnes of tomatoes

The company behind the plans already powers huge greenhouses using sewage water

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Tonnes of tomatoes could be grown using heat and carbon dioxide from a controversial waste incinerator being built in Essex. Early plans show at least five huge glasshouses around the edge of the integrated waste management facility (IWMF) in Rivenhall, outside Witham, currently being built by waste company Indaver.

The company behind the potential plans - Oasthouse Ventures – already heat two massive greenhouses together spanning 70 acres in Bury St Edmunds and Norwich using heat pumps with waste sewage water from local treatment works to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Early drawings plans for Rivenhall show two banks of greenhouses sitting on either side of the main incinerator development stretching considerable lengths. At the time of publication, no planning applications have been submitted for the plans. But those ideas come amid Essex County Council agreeing that the Indaver no longer has to comply with a condition that the entire project - originally envisaged with a paper pulping plant - has to be built out in full.

It was originally stipulated under condition 66 that the IWMF operation must include a combined heat and power (CHP) plant, a paper pulping plant, and an anaerobic digestion facility to treat food and green waste thereby generating biogas for the production of electricity on-site. A materials recycling facility and a mechanical biological treatment facility must also be delivered and operational by December 31, 2026.

Read more: Council demands controversial £400m Rivenhall waste incinerator must be finished by 2026

An application from Indaver to remove that condition 66 was agreed upon by Essex County Council’s planning committee on Friday (July 28) after officers argued the council may have difficulty defending any legal challenge. In the meantime Indaver has indicated it wants to increase the amount of electricity it can generate from a maximum of 49.9 megawatts currently permitted to above 50 megawatts – a level that needs government approval.

Essex County councillor Ross Playle told the planning committee: “It’s incredibly disappointing we find ourselves back in the situation now with this council once again debating whether to facilitate and justify planning creep that the local residents have had to put up for too long.

"In the past 18 months, we've come to learn of further details of how Indaver intend to diverge from the original planning application including growing lots of tomatoes and increasing the energy output of this site.

These proposals in themselves require fresh planning applications but it once again highlights the uncertainty that residents have had to put up with again for too long.”

Richard Greaves, Essex County Council's chief planning officer, said: "Rivenhall has always been a complicated issue and it still continues to be. This case if you like is about the lawfulness of the condition, not the wider principle about what should be built and what shouldn't be built.

“Our view is unchanged as a waste planning authority that planning permission exists for an integrated waste management facility, it's just that at this stage the energy from the waste facility is being constructed and the other elements are, even though the developer has been open and honest that it may not be economically feasible for the other elements in the future."

He added: "It may be that further applications are made down the line to include greenhouse development to take the CO2 and heat or materials recycling facilities but those applications haven't been submitted so it's a bit hypothetical at this stage and we can only deal with what's in front of us.”

Oasthouse Ventures have been approached for comment.