Construction has started on one of two proposed waste-to-energy facilities in the Rockingham-Kwinana area, the first to be built in Australia.

First sod was turned on Friday at the $668 million energy project in Kwinana which will thermally treat waste diverted from landfill into steam for electricity generation.

It is co-developed by Dutch Infrastructure Fund, Macquarie Capital and Phoenix Energy.

Dubbed Avertas Energy — Latin for “switch” — the project will create 800 jobs during construction, 60 continuing full-time roles and process 400,000 tonnes of waste a year. Veolia Australia and New Zealand, which employs about 4000 people, will operate the project for 25 years once Acciona Geotech finishes construction, with the facility due to open in 2021.

Avertas has a 20-year waste supply agreement with eight councils and expects to generate 36MW to feed into the South West Interconnected System and power about 50,000 homes.

Waste-to-energy is only one step from landfill in the State Government’s recently released waste strategy which has a bigger focus on material recovery as opposed to energy recovery.

“Energy recovery is preferable to landfill disposal but should only be applied to residual waste once better practice source separation approaches have been exhausted,” it says.

Avertas Energy chief executive Frank Smith was buoyant about the endeavour, however, and said it was a chance to bring new technology to Australia.

“It is now our objective that this project contributes to the switch away from landfill and a switch towards cleaner renewable energy sources,” he said.

“Our logo is a boomerang which makes sense being the first Australian waste-to-energy project, it also signifies the throwing of waste and return of renewable energy to our communities.”

Premier Mark McGowan said the project would offset methane creating landfill.

“It creates energy, it substitutes for other forms of energy … as waste decomposes it creates carbon dioxide, so in effect it is a net negative greenhouse emitter, the advice I have is it’s a 400,000 tonne reduction in carbon emissions by using this process,” he said.

“Creating new landfill is difficult, communities don’t want them in their vicinity, landfill is a waste, a waste of waste and they are expensive and finding sites is virtually impossible, even in a State the size of Western Australia.”

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price said the Clean Energy Finance Corporation had committed up to $90 million in debt finance and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency had provided $23 million in grant funding towards the project.

“This is a great example of the Federal Government committing to a project which is going to be the trifecta, so we’re going to be able to reduce waste, reduce those methane levels and provide an excellent source of clean energy,” she said.

A small group of protesters from the Alliance for a Clean Environment rallied at a boundary fence near the site during the ceremony.