Burning issues for Czech eco-tender player AVE CZ

If AVE CZ built an incinerator plant in Rybitví with merely adequate capacity, the public would hardly have the right to object.

Energy & Green Biz
Čestmír Klos | 19.07.2011
The old hazardous Rybitví waste incinerator was a total failure — and modern technology won’t improve the perception of it if the site becomes a magnet for industrial waste

In its bid to build a large-scale hazardous waste incinerator at the site of a defunct one, the Upper Austrian company AVE CZ bluffed like a star poker player — it sought permission to equip a construction site in an area not zoned for its planned project. And it won’t be easy to obtain it because “the project is in clear variance with the valid land-use plan of the Rybitví municipality,” according to Pardubice regional environmental department head Josef Hejduk.

The early history of AVE CZ’s efforts is short but hardly sweet, and worth reviewing as a lesson in futility before we get to today’s main issue: the eco-tender — a nationwide environmental cleanup that could potentially be the largest tender in Czech history, worth up to Kč 115 billion ($6.65 billion), the aim of which is to contract a single company or consortium to undertake the cleanup of all the toxic environmental sites in the Czech Republic.

The original Rybitvi incineration plant near Pardubice was closed in 2004 as it was exceeding the emission limits. AVE CZ bought the plant in 2006 and the Czech public has known about the intention of the Upper Austrian company to build an industrial hazardous waste incineration plant in Rybitví near Pardubice since 2007.

Originally, a public debate on the incinerator was planned for November 10, 2009. However, due to obvious public interest and the capacity limitation of the chosen venue, ABC Club Na Olšinkách, the first debate was postponed and moved to the Pardubice ČEZ Arena (in use chiefly as a hockey rink) on December 9, 2009 — attended by some 7,000 citizens, said to be the largest public hearing in Czech history.

Opponents of the incinerator founded websites www.proti-spalovne.cz where articles, opinions, a photo gallery, a list of other incinerators, discussion forums, etc. can be found. On January 4, 2010, the website www.ekolist.cz also notified of the public debate about the incinerator, too. In the initial months, more than 47,000 of citizens expressed their opinions of the incinerator in the petition against construction.

Perhaps influenced by public opinion, the Czech Ministry for the Environment also opposed modernization of the Rybitvi plant in Pardubice; the ministry noted that the proposal of the plant lacked an option that would be sufficiently far from residential housing. The process of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for reconstruction of the plant resulted in the release of a negative opinion.

The renewal of the closed incinerator included 3 variants:

  1. 7,500 operating hours – 20,000 t/a (at a maximum capacity of rotary kiln 2.66 t/h)
  2. 6,000 operating hours – 15.800 t/a (at a maximum capacity of rotary kiln 2.66 t/h)
  3. 4,500 operating hours – 12.000 t/a (at a maximum capacity of rotary kiln 2.66 t/h)

AVE CZ could appeal against the zoning decision to the Environment Ministry, but it is unlikely to succeed because the land-use plan has the legal standing of a law. Furthermore, the company also failed on February 3, 2010 to win approval during a hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) over construction; the ministry issued its decision following the “hockey rink hearing.” Even though the ministry’s decision is not binding on AVE CZ, by law it must be taken into consideration during further construction proceedings.

Eyeing the eco-tender

AVE CZ, in which the Upper-Austrian government has a 51-percent stake, is part of a consortium looking to compete in the mother of all Czech tenders — the aforementioned eco-tender or “supertender” to clean old ecological damage nationwide. According to Jan Linhart from the civic association Stop the incinerator in Rybitví (Stop spalovně v Rybitví) this is why the company is nearly certain to appeal the Pardubice incinerator decision.

“One of the conditions is to have a large [hazardous waste] incinerator, but AVE CZ doesn’t have one,” Linhart said. That would explain why the company has invested in a facility when it doesn’t have essential things such as a zoning permit.

Company technical director Jiří Čenský said the decision came far quicker than anticipated but he is convinced that AVE CZ will manage to meet the requirements. However, the incinerator isn’t included in the Pardubice region’s waste management plan, and the investor failed to convince the public that the facility wouldn’t harm the surroundings. AVE CZ already at the December 2009 public hearing neglected to fully prepare to meet the public in Pardubice — an area that is home to many chemical engineers due to the concentration of industry in this part of the Czech Republic.

The AVE CZ panel wasn’t able to answer many of their questions. Those given by the firm’s expert adviser, Prof. Jaroslav Hyžík, were confrontational and met with derision and laughter due to his obstinate stance. At the time, a joke was circulating at his expense: “Profesor Hyžík — the man who taught Pardubice to truly fear the incinerator.”

Unwelcome neighbor

Apart from the investors, no one wants a hazardous waste incinerator in Pardubice nor in Hradec Králové, let alone the surrounding municipality, were the Srnojed houses are a mere 300 meters from the facility. Plans are to have some 100,000 tonnes of waste brought in from around the country — and Austria. Since February 2008, some 50,000 people in the region have signed a petition to block its construction.

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