A History of the Liberalised Electricity Industry in 25 Freebies Part 5: A Small Brick of a Concrete-Like Substance Given out by Energy Answers International (circa 2008)

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A History of the Liberalised Electricity Industry in 25 Freebies Part 5:
A Small Brick of a Concrete-Like Substance Given out by Energy Answers International (circa 2008)




“unprepossessing” would be a kind word for this freebie. Perhaps “freebie” is a kind word for this freebie: it is probably more of a sample, and to the lucky recipient is probably only useful as a paperweight. It appears to be a rectangular brick of a rocky substance in which pieces of glass and ceramic are embedded. The surface is something like polished concrete or coarse marble, and one face is covered by a label with the logo of Energy Answers International. The label suggests that the object is a “boiler aggregate block”. The listed website is defunct. Even the website of Energy Answers International is defunct nowadays. So what on earth was this?

Well in truth we know what it was. But we still did some digging to refresh our memory and uncover the context.

This object was given out in 2008 by the developers behind the “N7 Resource Recovery Project”. “N7” because the project would have stood alongside the N7 road near Rathcoole, County Dublin, and “Resource Recovery Project” because this was definitely not to be confused with an incinerator – no sir, this was something completely different and not to be associated with so emotive a word. The plant was to take 365,000 tonnes of waste annually whilst simultaneously generating “enough energy to power over 43,000 homes”.

It never happened. The plant was refused planning permission by An Bord Pleanála in February 2009, and project sponsor Energy Answers International, a US company, packed up shop and retreated home. This small brick is probably the only physical evidence that remains of a great deal of its work in Ireland.

Who were they? Well Energy Answers ran waste-to-energy facilities in Massachusetts and New York, but sold its US operations to Covanta in 2007. Projects under development at the time were retained, and this rump business assumed the name Energy Answers International. The smaller entity concentrated on realising plans such as the N7RRP and a site in Baltimore, Maryland, under the leadership of the original co-founder of the group, Patrick Mahoney.

That original business, started in 1981, claimed to have technology for shredding waste to allow it to burn more efficiently, and also recover valuable metals and potentially usable aggregates. At the time this was innovative, and the boiler aggregate blocks produced during the process, of which our object is an example, were supposed to be amenable to construction applications.

Waste-to-energy is seemingly not a buoyant technology in its home US market, however, where the number of WtE facilities has decreased over the last decade. The US industry started to look elsewhere, including to Ireland, for growth. The site chosen by Energy Answers International was a quarry west of Dublin, which would have hidden much of the visual impact. The problem in this instance, however, was primarily the Dublin waste management plan of 2005, which envisaged a different facility (which was subsequently built) in Poolbeg.

This sort of development is almost guaranteed to provoke local campaigns, in this case Rathcoole Against Incineration Dioxins (RAID). Subsequently another Energy Answers International project was rebuffed in Baltimore in 2014, after activist opposition. Then in 2018 political support for a Puerto Rico-based site fell away.

The company founder died in 2016, and it appears that without his presence the business has withdrawn from the fray.

Why have we included this object in this series? Well it is because we believe that it is important to consider what didn’t happen alongside what happened, and to consider what alternative histories might have been.

Wouldn’t it have been a different world if ESB’s 1974 plans for a nuclear reactor at Carnsore Point had come to fruition? Or if Hess’s plans for an LNG terminal at Tarbert hadn’t been squashed? Or if the 2009 planning application for the North-South Interconnector had specified the correct pylon heights? Or if there had been an administration in office at Stormont capable of legally approving the resubmitted North-South Interconnector plans in 2018 for that matter?

It is also (whatever you think of waste-to-energy, or this project, or this developer) a salute to the project developer in general: that group of people with a vision who through ambition, persistence and taking risks often effect the real progress in our industry. Particularly those project developers who don’t have the safety net of developing under the aegis of a semi-state entity or large multinational.

There are always casualties: a more recent comparable example we might have chosen is Mayo Renewable Power, which failed in 2016, but it is the tombstone-like quality of this N7RRP freebie that attracted us. This is not an acrylic deal-commemorating tombstone like those that adorn a merchant banker’s cabinet; this marble-coloured slab is something much more sombre, and worthy of an epitaph.


Back to Part 1 or Part 4