Planning Authority approves Magħtab incinerator that will produce 5% of Malta's energy needs

With seven votes against two, the Planning Authority has approved the permit for an incinerator at Magħtab • Naxxar mayor votes against over emissions fears

Photomontage of the Magħtab incinerator as seen from the outskirts of Mosta and Naxxar some 3km away
Photomontage of the Magħtab incinerator as seen from the outskirts of Mosta and Naxxar some 3km away

The Planning Authority has approved an incinerator at Magħtab that will burn up to 400 tonnes of black bag waste per day.

The incinerator is expected to produce 5% of Malta’s energy needs and will reduce the amount of municipal waste that has to be landfilled.

Almost a third of municipal waste in Malta is currently landfilled, which is way above the 10% target set for 2030 by the European Commission.

Naxxar mayor Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami voted against the project over fears that it will spew harmful emissions. The other person to vote against was NGO representative Annick Bonello.

Seven other members, including ERA chairman Victor Axiak and board chairman Vince Cassar voted in favour.

Earlier on Thursday, the Nationalist Party came out against the incinerator, insisting that the process leading to it was vitiated.

Emissions concerns

Concerns over the impact of the plant’s emissions were also raised by Swieqi deputy mayor Mary Anne Abela, who insisted that studies on this aspect were not satisfactory and did not take into account wind direction.

Wasteserv CEO Richard Bilocca tried to allay fears, insisting that the Environment Impact Assessment clearly states that legal limits on emissions will not be surpassed.

The EIA had concluded that the proposed incinerator will emit nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and even metals like cadmium, mercury, arsenic and small amounts of lead. But the amounts released in the atmosphere will be kept within EU limits through the use of “best available technology”.

Site selection studies

Another issue raised was the adequacy of the site selection studies.

Part of the site is located outside the area designated for waste management but identified for this purpose in a site selection study.

Other sites, which were considered included areas next to the Ta’ Barkat Sewage Treatment Plant in Xgħajra, the Sant’Antnin Waste Treatment Plant in Marsaskala, the Delimara power station site in Delimara, the Hal Far Industrial Estate, the Luqa Industrial Estate and the abattoir at Albert Town, Marsa.

The report concluded that areas within, or in immediate proximity to, the Magħtab waste complex were preferred due to the proximity of other waste management facilities that would feed the incinerator.

FAA spokesperson Astrid Vella challenged the site selection process insisting that this was part of a flawed EIA which had to be repeated because of a conflict of interest involving EIA coordinator Mario Schembri, who also operates a waste recycling scheme.

The Environment and Resources Authority had acknowledged this conflict of interest and the EIA had to be undertaken again under the guidance of a new coordinator.  The site selection study had already been conducted as part of the first EIA.

Vella also warned that the incinerator may end up derailing waste recovery and reduction targets as it would itself need waste to operate.

Enough energy to power Gozo and Mellieħa

Bilocca said the final EIA was fully-certified by ERA and pointed out that the waste-to-energy plant will not cater for recyclable material. The incinerator will be limited to non-recyclable waste which would otherwise have to be landfilled, creating even greater problems, he added.

“Instead of landfilling waste we would produce 5% of the country’s energy demand, which is the equivalent of the energy used in Gozo and Mellieha,” BIlocca said. “The plant is crucial to have an alternative to landfilling. In this way, we are turning waste in a resource instead of burying it.”

Board member and NGO representative Annick Bonello asked for a quantification of carbon emissions from the plant in view of Malta’s climate change commitments. Bilocca replied that landfilling will still create carbon emissions over a longer period of time but the incinerator while producing carbon emissions also produced 5% of Malta’s energy needs, thus contributing to climate change targets.

Concerns over size of incinerator

One of the concerns raised in the meeting was the size of the incinerator. 

The EIA studies reveal that the option for a smaller incinerator at Magħtab that could handle 120,000 metric tonnes instead of a projected 192,000 metric tonnes, had to be discarded because this required Malta’s full implementation of EU waste targets by 2024.

Bilocca explained that the plant will have two lines and two furnaces in a way that in the future Wasteserv will be able to switch off one of the lines, especially in the winter months when less tourists visit Malta.

Most objectors, including representatives of environmental NGOs did not make it for the meeting with Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat claiming that he only got to know about it by chance. The PA confirmed that notifications about the meeting were sent on 20 December.

Resident Anton Valentino proposed an afforestation project in the area to compensate for the impact of the project but Bilocca warned that this will result in the take up of agricultural land.