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Metro Vancouver sticks with incinerator forecast despite skeptics

A crane inside Metro Vancouver
A crane inside Metro Vancouver's existing waste-to-energy plant in Burnaby hoists another load of garbage to be burned.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver is sticking for now to its estimate that it will need to incinerate an extra 370,000 tonnes per year of garbage, despite concerns the regional district is poised to over-build a new waste-to-energy plant.

Metro's zero waste committee was told by staff Feb. 13 that there might be just 250,000 tonnes of garbage left to be burned under one potential scenario after the region stops sending waste to the Cache Creek landfill.

But that would depend on achieving an 80 per cent recycling rate some consider unreachable and it assumes no increase in garbage generated from a growing population or economy.

As a result, Metro officials are maintaining the 370,000-tonne estimate based on more conservative recycling and growth projections, but that could still be revised ahead of an eventual call for bids from companies seeking to build a new waste-fired plant.

The regional district is part way through its procurement process and aims to pick a winning proponent by 2016.

Port Moody Coun. Rick Glumac argued needed waste-to-energy capacity could end up much lower if private firms build advanced new material recovery facilities (MRFs) that could pull large amounts of recyclables out of the waste stream that will otherwise be burned or dumped.

He pushed Thursday for a more detailed review of the entire incineration business case, which pre-dates Metro's recent decision to allow MRFs to operate, subject to restrictions.

"It's a big game-changer," Glumac said. "If a number of these facilities are built in the region and if it doesn't make sense to build an incinerator, then we shouldn't."

He noted Coquitlam has endorsed a plan for a MRF to be built there that could process 260,000 tonnes per year.

Metro's assumptions don't yet make any allowance for a reduction in garbage needing incineration due to MRFs.

Glumac said the regional district must remain open to new information.

"We're on the edge of making a decision for a half a billion dollar facility."

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan cautioned the Metro board decided to pursue the recovery of energy from waste ahead of landfilling and it is not the committee's role to try to overturn that decision.

He called MRF proponents "snake oil salesmen" who really aim to be middlemen that keep landfilling garbage in a slightly different form.

Corrigan predicted it would be "incredibly expensive" for Metro to reach the 80 per cent recycling rate needed to slash the required incineration capacity.

"[Our citizens] are not going to be prepared to see their tipping fees go up exponentially," he said. "When the numbers get big they'll choke."

He said Metro's 80 per cent longer term target is an "aspirational goal" that may not be met.

Another major area of uncertainty overhanging Metro's calculations is the fate of its recently passed waste flow bylaw, which is to ban the growing practice of trucking waste out of the region to cheaper landfills that are not subject to Metro's steep tipping fees.

At least 70,000 tonnes per year of Metro trash is now heading to Abbotsford and then south to the U.S., according to Metro planners, who assume that would be recaptured if the province approves Bylaw 280.

Waste committee chair Malcolm Brodie said Metro's entire solid waste management plan would be upended if the province rejects the bylaw, which is supported by recycling industries but opposed by waste haulers and business groups including the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Corrigan said it's "shameful" Metro waste is hauled to cheaper out-of-region dumps, adding that "sneaking it out through back doors to other jurisdictions that will accept it" defeats Metro's aim of taking responsibility for its waste at home.

Some committee members also want more detail on Metro's estimate that a new waste-to-energy plant would be economically viable if BC Hydro pays the same price for the electricity as the $95 per megawatt-hour cost expected for its Site C dam, or even at a lower $80 price a new Ontario incinerator is receiving.

Metro is updating its business case, promising more analysis of various electricity rates and the cost of shipping garbage to distant landfills for comparison against WTE.

Metro staff estimate the heat energy derived from burning garbage will be largely stable despite changes in the make-up of residual waste as recycling rates improve from about 58 per cent now to 70 and then 80 per cent.

Critics have long argued there will be little left that readily burns once new recycling initiatives are in place.

But solid waste manager general manager Paul Henderson said the energy content will be essentially the same, because the planned removal of low-energy organic food waste will balance the loss of high-energy paper, plastics and wood.

If the region ends up with excess waste-to-energy capacity, Metro officials say they can scale down use of the existing Burnaby incinerator.

 

Vancouver incinerator site eliminated

One prospective site for a new waste-to-energy plant serving the region has been eliminated.

A property in south Vancouver proposed by Plenary Group didn't have the support of land owner TransLink or the City of Vancouver and has been dropped.

That leaves three areas already disclosed as potential sites – Duke Point near Nanaimo, aboriginal land across Howe Sound at Port Mellon, and the Lehigh Cement plant in Delta, which would use processed garbage as fuel in place of the coal or tires it now burns.

Metro is also considering six more potential sites proposed by various land owners that have not yet been made public.

Metro is to option ones it deems suitable and then unveil them in April, launching a new round of public meetings to gauge community support for them.

The unveiling of sites this spring also triggers one year of talks between Metro and the Fraser Valley Regional District on what emission standards, monitoring requirements and mitigation measures should be recommended for any new incinerator. An arbitrator will decide if no consensus can be reached by the two regions, which have clashed repeatedly over the waste-to-energy plan.

The Regional District of Nanaimo has opposed a waste-to-energy plant within its boundaries, although the City of Nanaimo has yet to take a formal position.

Metro aims to shortlist both sites and bidders over the next two years ahead of a final decision that could see a new waste-to-energy plant open in 2019.

It will leave it open to bidders to propose whether to build just one large plant or multiple smaller plants.

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