Audit Office Report raises huge concerns on environmental governance arrangements

October 13, 2020 2 min read

Audit Office Report raises huge concerns on environmental governance arrangements

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Green Party NI Leader Clare Bailey MLA has said a Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) Report on the regulation of Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants across Northern Ireland gives rise to serious questions on the operation of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and our planning system more broadly.

The NIAO report found that only 30 out of 68 Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants processing a significant amount of agricultural waste hold a licence to do so and many are thought to have been constructed without planning permissions.

Waste Management Licences are issued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Anaerobic Digestion plants use agricultural waste to generate biogas which is sold to the energy market as renewable energy through the Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation scheme (NIRO).

Clare Bailey MLA has questioned why so many AD plants operate without a licence, many without planning approval and are indeed generously incentivised through the government scheme.

Clare Bailey said: “The Audit Office Report has raised concerns around the overly generous financial return for Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants. Public trust and confidence in green energy schemes took a hammering during the RHI scandal – we don’t need an energy scheme misconstrued as green and raising new concerns with over-generous incentives.

“The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has lost grip of the licensing of Anaerobic Digestion plants. Furthermore, the Audit Office has raised concerns that many AD plants have been built without planning permission at all.  
“It appears that Anaerobic Digestion plants have been given carte blanche to operate with generous incentives despite well-founded concerns about the role of AD technology in the environmental damage created by industrialised farming practices across Northern Ireland.  

“The anaerobic digestion process produces digestate as a waste product containing just as much ammonia as the waste that went into the system. Ammonia emissions from agriculture is harmful to human health, it pollutes our waterways, damages our eco-system and causes biodiversity loss. I’ve tabled a series of questions to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in an attempt to ascertain the scale of environmental damage and habitat deterioration caused by intensified farming practices, ammonia pollution and nitrogen disposition.

“If intensification of farming is the problem, then anaerobic digestion is far from the solution, despite generous incentives from government and a blind eye turned by our planning system and the Environment Agency.

“This NIAO report further strengthens my consistent call for the creation of an independent Environmental Protection Agency for Northern Ireland. Our environment is in a perilously poor state and the harmful impacts of decades of neglect on public health and our natural world are deeply concerning.”   

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