Who’s behind the Norfolk incinerator project?

The consortium chosen as Norfolk County Council's preferred bidder for the proposed incinerator pitches together London-based waste company Cory Environmental with US firm Wheelabrator Technologies, which specialises in energy-from-waste (EfW) incineration.

When it was recommended as preferred bidder for the project, a spokesman for the consortium said: 'We are delighted to have reached this stage of the process. We are both committed to developing and delivering a modern, proven and safe facility, which will help Norfolk deal with its leftover rubbish for many years to come.'

The council maintains an incinerator would be safe, and that the deal represents good value for Norfolk, saving at least �200m over 25 years.

Opponents, however, argue that emissions from the plant could cause health problems. They also fear increased traffic movements and say that the incinerator will hamper efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

Cory Environmental has been in business for more than 100 years. It operates across the country and employs more than 1,000 people at more than 30 sites, providing a wide range of services from street cleansing and municipal waste collection, to recycling, transfer and disposal.

Wheelabrator Technologies is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Waste Management, based in Houston, Texas. It bills itself as 'a world leader in the safe and environmentally sound conversion of municipal solid waste and other renewable waste fuels into clean energy'.

It operates 17 EfW facilitie across the US and also operates five independent power plants to generate electricity using fuels including waste wood, tyres, waste coal and natural gas. As well as producing electricity, some of its plants produce steam which is sold to nearby government and commercial establishments.

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A Cory Wheelabrator spokesman said: 'Wheelabrator has a strong, 35-year track record of operational performance and reliable EfW services to hundreds of customers under one of the most stringent environmental regulatory regimes in the world. Wheelabrator's commitment to environmental compliance and workplace safety is also evidenced by the company's extensive environmental management system, as well as the highest national rating granted by the US Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration to 21 Wheelabrator EfW and independent power facilities for voluntary safety practices – a distinction earned by less than 0.03pc of seven million regulated US workplaces.'

This month, however, it was revealed that employees at its Saugus incinerator in Boston, Massachusetts, had filed a lawsuit alleging that the company knowingly broke environmental laws and jeopardised public health by allowing toxic pollutants such as mercury and lead to enter the environment in a number of ways. The spokesman said: 'As the case is currently ongoing, further details are not publicly available at this time. However, the facility is operating in compliance with state and federal regulatory permits.'

In 1993, 29 towns in New Hampshire and Vermont filed for bankruptcy, citing financial difficulties relating to contracts to supply Wheelabrator's Claremont incinerator.

The spokesman said: 'None of the 29 towns that were part of the New Hampshire/Vermont Solid Waste Project went bankrupt. The 29 communities that originally signed on with the project remained customers for the length of the 20-year contract.'

Wheelabrator's first contract in the UK market was awarded last year when it was appointed to provide maintenance and operations support at Cory Environmental's Riverside Resource Recovey facility in south London. The two firms have worked together on another UK EfW incinerator, the Riverside Resource Recovery facility in Bexley.

The proposed plant at Saddlebow, on the edge of King's Lynn, would have a capacity of 268,000 tonnes a year, 170,000 tonnes of which would be supplied by Norfolk County Council.

It would stand next to King's Lynn Power Station, enabling extra electricity generated to go to the national grid, and to Palm Paper.

If it were to get the go-ahead, construction would start in 2012 and the plant would begin operating in 2015.

Tomorrow: we visit Cory Wheelabrator's newly-built incinerator on the south bank of the Thames.