PLANS to build a £100m incinerator in Oxfordshire to burn household waste will be drawn up in the new year.

County Hall has come out in favour of creating a giant plant where up to 200,000 tonnes of waste a year can be burnt, to create electricity.

Oxfordshire County Council has spent more than a year assessing other options to burying household waste in landfill sites. But The Oxford Times can reveal that the council has chosen the highly-controversial option of incineration as the long-term answer to Oxfordshire's mounting waste problems.

It will now be faced with convincing local people of the safety of energy-from-waste plants, with critics insistent that burning waste adds to global warming and raises serious health concerns.

Speculation on where the incinerator will be located will begin immediately, with County Hall not ruling out the need for more than one.

The council said it would be awaiting proposals from companies on a "whittled-down list" before identifying possible sites.

Incineration companies had dominated an earlier shortlist of eight companies asked to submit plans on how waste should be treated and disposed of in the future.

Chris Cousins, the county council's head of sustainable development, said that after examining various technologies, energy-from-waste by incineration was "the only one left in the ring".

He said: "This is widely used in other European countries. It is safe. It is a tried-and-tested technology.

"We wanted to test what the market had to offer and had a wide response. We based our decision on a whole range of things, such as safety, cost and value for money for Oxfordshire's council taxpayers.

"The electricity created would be substantial - enough to supply many thousands of homes. I think there is likely to be one plant. But that will become apparent next year.

"These plants must meet very strict requirements and have to be licensed by the Environment Agency. I'm afraid there has been an element of scaremongering from some of the opponents of this technology."

The vast bulk of the waste would be from Oxfordshire homes, with a small percentage of commercial waste and waste from outside the county.

The giant plant would be built and operated by the successful bidder, with the county council charged a gate fee for every tonne of rubbish.

A contract is expected to be signed in 2009, with the incinerator operating by 2012 or 2013.

Contractors on the original shortlist included the companies who run landfill operations at Sutton Courtenay and at Ardley, sparking speculation that the incinerator could be accommodated on a landfill site.

There have also been concerns it could be built on the outskirts of Oxford.

Any site would need to be well served by a road system. While siting an incinerator close to residential areas would intensify local protests, many of the UK's 14 energy-from-waste facilities have been built near, or within, populated areas.

Andrew Wood, of Oxfordshire Friends of the Earth, said the county council was taking "a crazy decision" by signing up for the "wrong technology".

He said: "If the county was thinking about the future, it would be looking at low-carbon technology.

"The backdrop is the emerging 'low-carbon' economy, where less-polluting activities will be rewarded, and polluting ones financially penalised.

"To get a plant requiring this kind of investment will mean the council being locked into a long-term contract and having to guarantee high levels of waste. This will make it harder to achieve high recycling rates without incurring financial penalties."

He claimed the decision had been made without seeking the views of councillors, who are due to debate the issue early next month.

Oxfordshire Friends of the Earth had urged the council to go for MBT technology, which involves mechanically sorting waste then treating it biologically.

The county went out to tender after warnings from the Government of severe financial penalties for failing to reduce waste sent to landfill sites.

But with the incinerator still years away, the county hopes to improve its recycling level by opening a food treatment centre to handle kitchen waste within the next two years.