Bureau misled panel on incinerator

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 4:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2014, 2:03pm

How low will the Environment Bureau go to inflict the worst and costliest waste-disposal option on Hong Kong?

In April 2012, its proposal to build a mega incinerator off Shek Kwu Chau was rejected by Legco's panel on environmental affairs. Yet on Monday, February 24, the bureau presented the same proposal to the panel, now, at HK$18.2 billion, it costs 22 per cent more.

Since the rejection in 2012, the bureau has not developed a holistic waste-management strategy for sorting waste at source, collecting it and transporting it to recycling facilities. It remains intent on bulldozing through Legco the easiest option of expanding landfills and building an incinerator for burning unsorted waste.

Last week, legislators raised the same issues as in 2012 and those issues remain unaddressed. Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing and assistant director Elvis Au again gave misleading answers to questions. Asked to separate the cost of reclaiming land and building infrastructure for the Shek Kwu Chau site from the cost of building the incinerator itself, Wong claimed the project has no separate costings. However, in a letter to these columns in 2012, Au said the infrastructure would cost about 26 per cent of the total. Of the current HK$18.2 billion capital cost, 26 per cent is HK$4.7 billion. Despite his plea to construct an incinerator, Wong has chosen a site that will cost taxpayers HK$4.7 billion more (26 per cent) and take two years longer to complete than building it near a landfill with existing infrastructure.

By refusing to separate infrastructure cost from the actual cost to construct the incinerator, Wong is hiding the fact that it will be the most expensive in the history of this technology, at HK$13.5 billion (HK$18.2 billion less HK$4.7 billion for infrastructure development).

In 1993, the Dutch built a 2,200 tonnes per day (tpd) incinerator costing €191,625 per tonne of waste, and in 2003, they commissioned a 1,400 tpd incinerator costing €233,600 per tonne. If a 2 per cent annual inflation rate is applied to those two incinerators and expressed in 2014 money, they will cost €290,000, or HK$3 million, per tonne. So in 2014 money, the bureau's 3,000 tpd incinerator at HK$4.5 million per tonne costs 50 per cent more than the two Dutch ones. (Au claimed the cost of the proposed incinerator is comparable to the ones in Holland.) And cost is not the only thing the bureau has fudged.

Tom Yam, Lantau