The state of WtE in central and eastern Europe

Written by: Bryan W Jardine | Published:
Vienna’s Spittelau waste incineration plant processes around 250,000 tonnes of household waste every year

Following analysis of the regulatory and incentive regimes for the promotion of WtE projects in 14 central and eastern European countries, Bryan W Jardine takes a look at the wide variation between the different states

The Wolf Theiss WtE Guide, published in 2016, identifies developments which could be interesting for potential investors, government officials or concerned citizens who would like to understand how the surveyed countries are addressing and encouraging development in this burgeoning sector. Of particular interest is the overall importance of waste to energy (WtE) in the energy mix and the steps taken to adopt appropriate enabling legislation/regulations and incentive schemes.

A review of the findings in the guide suggest that central and eastern European (CEE) countries fall within three broad categories – those in which WtE is: an important and growing part of their energy profile; slated for development, although limited progress has been made to date; or, not actively being developed, even though enabling legislation
or incentive schemes may be in place.

The categorisation below is based on the findings of the guide. This analysis is obviously subject to change as countries develop their WtE priorities in the years ahead.

WtE leaders

Notable within this category are Austria and the Czech Republic.

In particular, Austria is the regional leader. Although there is no definition of WtE per se under the Waste Management Act of 2002, the Green Electricity Act of 2012 recognises that various WtE sources can be classified as facilities producing RES-Electricity and therefore eligible for certain tariff subsidies and priority dispatch.

Accordingly, some 8% of the total waste volume is thermally treated or incinerated for WtE.

While not quite as developed, the Czech Republic has also taken notable strides in this area. Between 2010 and 2014, the production of electricity from waste sources more than doubled – from 36GWh to 87GWh.

In 2013, 3.4% of waste was used to produce energy (both electricity and heat). Moreover, WtE projects are expected to further increase in the years ahead. The Czech government has plans to double the charge for disposing of waste in landfills with the hope of driving more waste disposal towards WtE.

Currently there are three waste incineration plants, with three more planned to come online in the near future.

The WtE second tier

Other CEE countries have indicated that WtE will become increasingly important in their national strategies.

In Bulgaria, WtE projects are not yet widely developed. Although the number of operational WtE projects and the total installed capacity has increased in recent years, their impact on the energy market does not yet qualify as significant. Still, the country has made some notable strides, as the number of WtE projects increased from just seven in 2012 to 29 by 2015. The total installed capacity is approximately 55.1MW (around 1.33% of the total installed capacity of RES-Electricity).

WtE projects are regulated primarily by the Waste Management Act (first adopted in 2012 and last amended in 2015) but also partially by the Act on Energy from Renewable Sources.

Although there is currently only one power plant in Hungary that produces WtE and the overall percentage of electricity produced from WtE is only 0.5%, expectations are that WtE will increase significantly in the future.

Specifically, Hungary’s parliament recently approved the country’s National Energy Strategy through to 2030, whereby the envisaged increase of the share of RES (including WtE) in the energy mix is anticipated to increase to 15% in 2030 and as much as 20% by 2050.

In Poland there is significant demand to upgrade opportunities in WtE projects. Although currently most of the municipal waste collected is still deposited in landfills (indeed there are currently only two operating installations for thermal treatment of municipal waste), some six other plants are planned to come online shortly, with another five thereafter. In summary, there are plans to construct a total of at least 11 thermal waste treatment plants in the years ahead.

Slovenia has recently acknowledged the importance of WtE projects in the hierarchy of waste treatment. WtE currently ranks fourth behind waste prevention, reuse and recycling. Efforts are being made by the regional centres for waste treatment to upgrade facilities to handle WtE. Currently there is only one such facility, but there are plans to bring more online in the future. Overall, the percentage of energy from RES sources (including WtE) has been increasing, primarily as a result of favourable credits and subsidies offered to investors by the Slovenian Ecological Fund, and of the general promotion scheme for RES. Notwithstanding this positive picture, the further development of WtE will largely depend upon the new government strategy for waste treatment which is currently in preparation.

WtE laggards

The CEE countries in this category may in many instances support the concept of WtE, but in reality they are lagging behind the development of such projects when compared with the countries above. WtE in Albania is generally at a very low level. Albania has not yet fully addressed environmental issues and is currently at a very early stage in treating and managing waste.

However, WtE projects have recently generated a greater level of interest within the Albanian government (despite relatively low levels of public support) and at least one project – the landfill at Elbasan – is poised to generate 2.5Mw of WtE following an investment of €22m.

Bosnia and Herzegovina have adopted waste management legislation at both the federal (Federation of BiH and Republic of Srpska) and cantonal level. Within this legislation, WtE is not specifically defined, although biomass is recognised as a source for production of RES-Electricity.

Estimates are that biomass could supply as much as 14% of the total energy consumption, but currently there is only one landfill gas project (located near Sarajevo), which was built with Austrian support and produces about 350kW of electricity, which is fed into the urban grid. Plans are afoot to double the capacity of this plant in the future.

Croatia specifically identified WtE projects as part of the ‘co-incineration of waste’ under the Sustainable Waste Management Act of 2013. Such WtE projects are given priority as a method of waste management (after reuse and recycling) and are also encompassed within the relevant RES legislation. Notwithstanding this encouraging legislative framework, no WtE facilities have been established to date.

Kosovo does not define WtE in its legislation, although the production of energy based on solid biomass is recognised as a renewable energy source under the law on energy.

There is no official information on the number (if any) of WtE projects or those slated for development.

Similarly in Romania, WtE is not specifically defined or regulated in the relevant legislation. Rather, the concept of WtE is covered under more general legislation such as Law 211/2011 on the regime of waste, and Law 220/2008 on RES-Electricity. The levels of WtE are disappointing – while there are no official statistics, estimates from 2013 are that only about one per cent of the total RES-Electricity produced was derived from biomass generally (with no further analysis on the percentage thereof being landfill WtE).

Serbia also lacks official statistics on the current number of WtE facilities, although the authorities have acknowledged WtE as an important area for potential future growth.

Statistics are also lacking for the Slovak Republic on the number of current WtE projects. While Slovakia has implemented the EU Waste Framework Directive through its Waste Act, there is no specific definition of WtE contained therein.

Finally, although Ukraine is actively seeking to diversify its energy and fuel sources, currently around 95% of its solid waste is deposited in landfills, with only 5% being recycled and even less being sourced for WtE projects. There are no specific statistics on WtE and, while there are four large waste incineration plants currently in operation, three of these were built in the 1980s (relying on outdated technology) with only one modern facility built in 2013.

Still some encouraging trends include the construction of new biogas plants, although official statistics on the percentage of electricity generated from WtE are not available.

In summary, although progress towards implementation of WtE projects in CEE varies, the general trend is encouraging,
with the majority of countries recognising the need to pursue WtE as an opportunity for the future.

Bryan W Jardine is a partner with Wolf Theiss Rechtsanwälte


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