THE Capital’s main refuse depot looks set to close nearly two years earlier than planned after it was forced to cease operating because of equipment failures and environmental concerns.
Powderhall waste transfer station – where thousands of tonnes of household rubbish each year are received and compacted before being dispatched to a landfill site near Dunbar – is scheduled to close for good at the end of 2018 when a new waste facility is due to open at Millerhill in Midlothian.
But four weeks ago the ageing plant had to stop accepting refuse after cranes broke down and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) raised concerns about drainage.
Since then bin lorries from across the city have been taking waste to two privately-operated sites instead. The council says this arrangement is partially covered by an existing contract and the overall effect is cost-neutral.
Now it looks likely the closure of Powderhall will be brought forward to avoid spending huge sums on a plant which is about to be axed anyway.
Environment convener Lesley Hinds said: “We have suspended operations temporarily at the moment to look at how much would need to be invested in Powderhall. We will also be looking at alternative arrangements until Millerhill opens.”
The new £150 million Millerhill “energy from waste” incinerator – a joint project with Midlothian Council – will take 135,000 tonnes of household waste and 20,000 tonnes of commercial waste a year and generate enough electricity each year to satisfy the energy demands of up to 32,000 households.
Cllr Hinds said: “When Millerhill becomes operational we won’t be sending anything to landfill. The food waste side of it is already up and running, but there is a bit of a gap until the rest is ready.”
Powderhall was built as an incinerator in 1893 and became a transfer station in 1985.
One source said the investment needed to fix it would be “substantial” and it was seen as waste of money to plough large sums into the plant when it was due to close so soon.
Work is already under way to look at residential development of the Powderhall site, potentially as affordable housing.
A council spokeswoman said: “We fully appreciate the importance of ensuring that Powderhall is managed in such a way that the environmental impact on the surrounding community is minimised and that we fully comply with the conditions of licence.
“However, given the age of the facility this presents a number of very real challenges.
“Given that we will be closing Powderhall towards the end of 2018 when we start delivering waste to a new state of the art waste treatment facility at Millerhill, we need to assess the level of investment needed to ensure compliance and whether there is an economic case for making this investment for such a relatively short period of time.”