• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 11:59am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 3:26am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 9:02am

Is the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator the best solution for Hong Kong?


Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.

Is the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator the best solution for Hong Kong?

Assistant Director of Environmental Protection Elvis Au has a letter in today's South China Morning Post in which he seeks to correct some "misunderstandings" that he believes have occurred in Lai See and other articles in the newspaper with respect to the government's controversial Shek Kwu Chau incinerator.

His beef with Lai See is that we have suggested as an alternative technology plasma gasification, rather than the moving grate technology to be used in the incinerator.

The advantages of gasification are that there are virtually no emissions, and the resultant synthesis gas from the process can be converted into electricity, or biofuel.

The incinerator will have a capacity of 3,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day. It will produce 20 to 30 per cent by weight of hazardous bottom ash. The government proposes to transport it to the ash lagoon at Tsang Tsui with a fleet of barges.

In contrast, plasma gasification produces an inert slag which can be used as aggregate in the construction industry.

Au says in his letter the plasma gasification plants Lai See referred to are "relatively small in scale with very limited performance track record. Our recent visit with legislators to Europe in March has reaffirmed this observation. It would take several years of operation before the effectiveness and efficacy of such gasification plants can be evaluated." This is a view which he repeats often. But some experts disagree with him.

Speaking at a conference last year, Professor Umberto Arena, a waste energy specialist from Second University in Naples, said the plasma arc technology had been tried and tested for more than 10 years.

Au says his view of the technology was "reaffirmed" during his recent visit to Europe. This is somewhat disingenuous since the group of legislators decided to visit a small working plant in Avonmouth, England. They were invited to visit a much bigger project in Teeside which is being commissioned but they declined the opportunity.

Au has in the past assured us that the proposed incinerator will be compliant with European Union standards - the highest in the world - and therefore there is no need for concern over health impacts.

Yet, even in Europe, several doctors' associations (which included environmental chemists and toxicologists) in 2008 wrote to the European Parliament with concerns over incinerator particle emissions and the absence of specific fine and ultra-fine particle size monitoring or in depth industry/government epidemiological studies of these minute and invisible incinerator particle size emissions.

Despite the technology's apparent immaturity, plasma gasification plants are being planned by municipal authorities across the world, including China, the US, Britain, Indonesia and Canada.

In his letter, Au says the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator "has already been approved under various ordinances. Going for another site now will not be quicker as it will take considerable time to get the necessary approvals."

We can't help feeling that reluctance to rethink the incinerator project stems from an unwillingness to go through the process again, even though it is a plan that was conceived some time ago and new technologies are now available.

How confident can we be that we are getting the best waste management solution for Hong Kong? The project has so far been blocked by the Finance Committee. But if what we hear is correct, the Environmental Protection Department appears to have succeeded in doing deals with the various political groupings and the project is likely to be approved in the next legislative session.


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This article is now closed to comments

Has an under the table deal already been struck with the intended beneficiaries of the lucrative contracts?
The fact is that a great many people, including many scientific experts, mistrust EPD and Environment Bureau and say they have been misinforming the public and Legco about incineration technology and its alternatives. Nor has it been explained why what is proposed will be many times more costly than comparable incinerators elsewhere in the world. Funny, that.
Crony capitalism Hong Kong style, - again?
Quite plainly you have no understanding of a how a newspaper works.
"The truth is the construction of the Amager Bakke incinerator has sparked lots of debate in the country. Danish citizens + politicians are more + more aware that they are recycling too little + burning too much, + that the incineration overcapacity of the country is not something to be proud of. For this reason, the ministry of environment led by Ms Ida Auken opposed the construction of this incinerator + in the end it was only because of the pressure from the finances minister, Mr Bjarne Corydon, that this project got the green light. If you wonder what does the minister of finance have to do with waste incineration it will help understand that he is elected in Esbjerg, the city where happens to be the HQ of the company which will build the incinerator.
This conflict of interest that in southern Europe would be quickly associated with corruption did spark some public debate in Denmark but didn’t stop the process. Actually just after the decision to stop the incinerator was changed through secret negotiations the director of the supplier company wrote an article in the national business paper thanking the finance minister for good lobby work in the case of Amager incinerator. It has also been implied that the interest from Chinese companies to order a good number of burners from the Danish company has played a decisive role in rubberstamping this unnecessary + expensive .."
You are quite right. You see, I deal on a daily basis, and professionally with issues arising from the operation of waste incinerators, and not with how newspapers are made.
So, I am grateful for your short answer to my question.
whom should we believe- international experts & peer reviewed reports or , Elvis Blinkers AU ?
Give us an update on your plasma gasification "reference projects" : Edmonton, Morcenx, Teeside - some several years behind schedule - and soon to be abandoned!
Facts not fiction!
PS How come a small potato columnist knows what's in today's paper? Who else can see the content of the SCMP before print - and comment? The Communist's Liaison Office??
rude arrogant fokker


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